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The Independent Weekly, LLC v. Atkins

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

March 21, 2018

THE INDEPENDENT WEEKLY, LLC
v.
DALE N. ATKINS, CLERK OF COURT

          APPEAL FROM CIVIL DISTRICT COURT, ORLEANS PARISH NO. 2017-03003, DIVISION "0" Honorable Piper D. Griffin, Judge

          Gary McGoffin Jonathan R. Villien DURIO, McGOFFIN, STAGG & ACKEMANN, P.C.

          Barry J. Sallinger Allyson M. Prejean BARRY J. SALLINGER, APLC COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT

          Fred L. Herman Mayra L. Scheuermann LAW OFFICES OF FRED L. HERMAN COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE

          James M. Williams Erin B. Rigsby CHEHARDY, SHERMAN, WILLIAMS, MURRAY, RECILE, STAKELUM & HAYES, L.L.P. One Galleria Boulevard, Suite

          Keith A. Doley COUNSEL FOR INTERVENORS/APPELLEES

          Court composed of Judge Edwin A. Lombard, Judge Joy Cossich Lobrano, Judge Regina Bartholomew Woods

          Joy Cossich Lobrano Judge

          The Independent Weekly, LLC ("Independent Weekly") appeals the district court's April 26, 2017 judgment denying its petition for a writ of mandamus ordering the clerk of Orleans Parish Civil District Court, Dale Atkins ("Atkins"), to provide it with the records of previously sealed lawsuits (the "2004 Lawsuit, " the "2005 Lawsuit, " and the "2006 Lawsuit"; together, the "Lawsuits"). For the reasons that follow, we affirm the district court's judgment.

         On March 20, 2017, Independent Weekly filed two ex parte motions to unseal the records of the 2004 Lawsuit and the 2006 Lawsuit. Although they had not been served with the ex parte motions, the original parties to the Lawsuits (the "Original Parties, " separately, "Houghtaling" and "Perret")[1] appeared via counsel and objected to any portion of the records being unsealed. The ex parte motions were denied on the grounds that they were procedurally defective.

         Ten days after filing its ex parte motions, on March 30, 2017, Independent Weekly made a public records request on Atkins seeking the records in the Lawsuits. Atkins denied the public records request because "the entirety of the records had been sealed pursuant to the orders of the district judges assigned to each of those dockets." Later that same day, after the public records request was denied, Independent Weekly filed a petition seeking a writ of mandamus ordering Atkins to deliver the records of the Lawsuits.

         The Original Parties appeared at the hearing on the mandamus petition, seeking to intervene in the action. Although Perret states, through counsel, that she filed a petition to intervene on April 17, 2017, the record before this Court contains only a petition to intervene naming Houghtaling and an order granting Perret leave to intervene. Nevertheless, the transcript indicates that the district court allowed both of the Original Parties to intervene. On April 26, 2017, the district court denied the petition for a writ of mandamus. This appeal timely follows.

         Independent Weekly assigns several errors-namely, that the district court erred by allowing Perret to intervene in the mandamus action, that the district court erred by failing to conduct an evidentiary hearing prior to denying the petition for a writ of mandamus, and that the district court erred by failing to grant the petition for a writ of mandamus. "An appellate court reviews a trial court's judgment denying a writ of mandamus under an abuse of discretion standard." Lewis v. Morrell, 2016-1055, p. 5 (La.App. 4 Cir. 4/5/17), 215 So.3d 737, 740 (citations omitted).

         Article 1, § 22 of the Louisiana Constitution provides that "[a]ll courts shall be open…." Further, Article 12, § 3 of the Louisiana Constitution provides that "[n]o person shall be denied the right to observe the deliberations of public bodies and examine public documents, except in cases established by law." Additionally, the Public Records Act makes "any public record" not specifically exempted from the Act available for inspection and reproduction. La. R.S. ...


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