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Bixby v. Arnold

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

December 5, 2019

LAURA BIXBY
v.
COLLIN ARNOLD

          APPEAL FROM CIVIL DISTRICT COURT, ORLEANS PARISH NO. 2019-01916, DIVISION "N-8" Honorable Ethel Simms Julien, Judge

          Bruce Hamilton Katie Schwartzmann ACLU FOUNDATION OF LOUISIANA Jamila Johnson Liyah Brown Conor Gaffney SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE

          Isaka R. Williams ASSISTANT CITY ATTORNEY Megan A. Haynes ASSISTANT CITY ATTORNEY Corwin St. Raymond DEPUTY CITY ATTORNEY Churita H. Hansell CHIEF DEPUTY CITY ATTORNEY Donesia D. Turner SENIOR CHIEF DEPUTY CITY ATTORNEY Sunni J. LeBeouf CITY ATTORNEY COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT

          Court composed of Judge Terri F. Love, Judge Rosemary Ledet, Judge Dale N. Atkins

          DALE N. ATKINS, JUDGE

         This is a mandamus action seeking to obtain documents and maps pursuant to the Louisiana Public Records Law, La. R.S. 44:1, et. seq.[1] Appellee, Laura Bixby ("Ms. Bixby"), filed a Petition for Writ of Mandamus naming as defendant, Appellant, Collin Arnold ("Mr. Arnold"), in his official capacity as custodian of records for New Orleans Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness ("NOHSEP"), seeking any map or maps which the City of New Orleans (the "City") maintains showing the locations of four hundred (400) publicly visible crime cameras, any policies governing the records keeping of the locations of the cameras, and records or policies regarding the staff employed by the Real Time Crime Center ("RTCC"). Additionally, Ms. Bixby sought attorney's fees and costs. The trial court granted Ms. Bixby's request for a writ of mandamus and ordered the release of the requested maps. Ms. Bixby, the prevailing party, was awarded, by the trial court, attorney's fees and reasonable costs as required by the Public Records Law. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On August 9, 2018, Ms. Bixby, a resident of New Orleans and a staff attorney for the Orleans Public Defenders, made a formal public records request to NOHSEP requesting production of the following records:

(1) Any maps or maps which the City maintains showing the location of all PUBLICLY VISIBLE (in other words, red and blue lights and the NOPD logo) real time crime cameras, not including traffic/red light/school zone cameras, at the present date;
(2) Any policies governing the keeping of records of locations of such cameras of past dates; and
(3) Records or policies regarding the number and type of staff employed at the Real Time Crime Center.

         On August 14, 2018, the New Orleans City Attorney's Office (the "City Attorney's Office") responded on behalf of Mr. Arnold and NOHSEP. The City Attorney's Office denied Ms. Bixby's first and second requests. However, it provided records responsive to her third request. In denying Ms. Bixby's first request, the City Attorney's Office responded as follows:

Records responsive to your first request regarding the location of the City's crime cameras are exempt from disclosure under the Public Records Law because they are records regarding investigative technical equipment and physical security information created in the prevention of terrorist-related activity.

         The City Attorney's Office cited La. R.S. 44:3(A)(3) as the statutory basis for the claimed exemption.

         As to the denial of Ms. Bixby's second request, the City Attorney's Office responded that:

The Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness does not have records responsive to your second request regarding policies governing keeping records of locations of cameras.

         In response to the City Attorney's Office partial denial of her public records request, Ms. Bixby filed, on February 20, 2019, a Petition for Writ of Mandamus pursuant to the Louisiana Public Records Law (the "Petition") requesting that Mr. Arnold produce the maps sought in the first request or be ordered to appear to show cause why he should not be "ordered to do so." Ms. Bixby also requested an award for attorney's fees and costs as the prevailing party pursuant to La. R.S. 44:35(A). Mr. Arnold, on March 6, 2019, filed an exception of no cause of action stating that the responsive "public" documents were produced and provided to Ms. Bixby. Further, Mr. Arnold responded he "did not refuse to perform his duties as custodian of the records for [NOHSEP];" therefore, Ms. Bixby was not entitled to attorney's fees or costs because he did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in response to her public records request.

         The matter came for a contradictory hearing before the trial court on March 14, 2019.[2] Before the hearing commenced, the trial court ordered the parties to submit post-hearing memoranda on the issues presented at the hearing. On May 3, 2019, the trial court rendered its judgment in which it:

(1) Granted Ms. Bixby's Writ of Mandamus; and
(2) Awarded Ms. Bixby attorney's fees and costs.

         The trial court also ordered Mr. Arnold to produce the following public records:

Any map or maps which the City maintains showing the location of all publicly visible real time cameras, not including traffic/red light/school zone cameras, at present date.

         It is from this judgment that Mr. Arnold appeals.

         DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS

         Mr. Arnold argues that the trial court erred in granting the writ of mandamus because the records sought are exempt from disclosure. Mr. Arnold also claims the trial court erred in ruling that NOHSEP is not an intelligence agency. Further, Mr. Arnold argues that the trial court erred in mandating the production of the maps because disclosure of the requested maps is unduly burdensome and overly broad. Lastly, Mr. Arnold claims the trial court erred in granting attorney's fees and costs to Ms. Bixby.

         Overview of the ...


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