X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:The Lake Travis Independent School District filed suit against David and Melissa Lovelace on Sept. 29, 2006, alleging that the Lovelaces had made repeated requests for information under the Texas Public Information Act (PIA) “in an effort to harass, beseige and attack the District.” Specifically, the district alleged that as of Oct. 24, 2006, the date of its first amended petition, the Lovelaces had made approximately 2,274 requests for information, requiring district representatives to copy more than 120,000 pages and seek 551 open records determinations from the Office of the Texas Attorney General. The district argued that the Lovelaces’ alleged misuse of the PIA amounted to a public nuisance, interfering with the public right of the taxpayers of the district to an unencumbered public education for their children and that it constituted an abuse of the governmental process of the district and the state of Texas. In characterizing the Lovelaces’ behavior as a public nuisance, the district emphasized the disruptive and harassing methods the Lovelaces have employed in requesting information, and not the specific information requested, as the source of its complaint. It noted that on many occasions the Lovelaces made dozens, even hundreds of requests at a time, placing a crippling burden on its office and personnel resources and redirecting staff time and attention away from the district’s core educational role. In addition to their sheer volume, the district claimed that many of the Lovelaces’ requests have been duplicative or have sought information that the district had already produced to the Lovelaces or that the Lovelaces had previously been informed did not exist. On one occasion, the Lovelaces withdrew a group of 162 separate requests for information but not until after the district had already spent a great deal of time and effort responding to them. The district also cited the Lovelaces’ refusal to comply with its attempts to enact more efficient procedures for dealing with the Lovelaces’ bulk requests and recounted the Lovelaces’ lack of cooperation with the district’s public information officer whenever the district sought clarification regarding their requests. In addition, the district alleged that the Lovelaces misused the district’s internal complaint procedure and filed a number of unfounded complaints against district employees under the district’s internal complaint system, as well as with the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). The district estimated that responding to all of the Lovelaces’ requests and complaints submitted between August 2005 and September 2006 amounted to $700,000 in direct and indirect costs, funds that otherwise would have gone toward educating its students. The Lovelaces answered and filed a plea to the jurisdiction and special exceptions, claiming that the district failed to state a cause of action within the jurisdiction of the court and that �552.324 of the PIA prevented the district from filing suit. They also sought attorneys’ fees under Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 13 and Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code ��9.012 or 10.004, arguing that the district’s suit was groundless, frivolous, brought in bad faith or for the purpose of harassment, and brought for the improper purpose of obtaining an excuse to refuse to comply with the PIA. In its response to the Lovelaces’ plea to the jurisdiction, the district reasserted its right to file a common-law public nuisance claim and argued that the PIA did not abrogate its right to bring common-law causes of action. The court granted the Lovelaces’ plea to the jurisdiction. The court also denied the Lovelaces’ request for attorneys’ fees. Both parties appealed. On appeal, the district argued that: 1. the PIA did not prohibit its suit for common-law causes of action by the express terms of the statute; 2. the PIA did not abrogate the district’s common-law rights; and 3. the trial court erred by not allowing the district the opportunity to amend its pleadings. In a single issue on cross-appeal, the Lovelaces argued that the trial court erred by denying their request for attorneys’ fees. HOLDING:Affirmed. The court stated that it recognized that school districts, given their already limited funds, have a legitimate interest in determining how best to devote tax dollars towards educating schoolchildren. At the same time, however, the court stated that it had a clear legislative mandate on the subject of open government. Texas Government Code �552.325 expressly states: “A governmental body, officer for public information, or other person or entity that files a suit seeking to withhold information from a requestor may not file suit against the person requesting the information.” Instead, a suit seeking to withhold information may only be brought against the attorney general under �552.324(a). To initiate a proper suit under the PIA, a governmental body must first obtain an attorney general opinion as to whether disclosure is required before it may challenge his determination that the information is subject to disclosure. Thus, the court found that the Legislature intended to prohibit governmental bodies from filing suit against requestors of public information and therefore affirmed the trial court’s ruling that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to hear the suit. OPINION:Henson, J.; Law, C.J., Waldrop and Henson, JJ.

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 1 article* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.