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Parish of Ascension v. Wesley

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

December 12, 2019

PARISH OF ASCENSION
v.
TALETA WESLEY

          Appealed from the Twenty-Third Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of Ascension, Louisiana Docket Number 123, 215 Honorable Katherine Stromberg, Judge Presiding

          O' Neil J. Parenton, Jr. Gonzales, LA Counsel for Plaintiff/Appellee, Parish of Ascension

          Vercell Fiffie Edgard, LA Counsel for Defendant/Appellant, Taleta Wesley

          BEFORE: WHIPPLE, C.J., GUIDRY, AND CRAIN [1] JJ.

          WHIPPLE, C.J.

         In this appeal, a citizen requesting certain public records challenges the trial court's judgment ordering the requestor to pay the custodian of those public records a fee of $10, 000.00 for the review and redaction of the requested records. For the following reasons, we reverse the assessment.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On September 12, 2018, Taleta Wesley submitted a public records request to the Parish of Ascension ("Parish"), requesting the following for the two years prior to the request: the emails of Taleta Wesley (herself), Wanda Guillera, Mandy Daigle, Kristi Anderson, and Kenny Matassa; the text messages of Kenny Matassa, Thomas Pearce, Donald Hysell, Kenneth Dawson, and Kristi Anderson; the phone log of Kenny Matassa; and "PAF's."[2] The following day, on September 13, 2018, Wesley submitted two additional public records requests to the Parish. In the first September 13, 2018 request, she sought the following records for the two-year period preceding the request: the emails of Thomas Pearce, Donald Hysell, Kenneth Dawson and Kenny Matassa's cell phone logs. In the second request that day, Wesley requested any and all emails or "personal message systems" that mentioned "Taleta, Talita, Taleda or any other variation of Taleta Wesley's name."

         In response to the requests, the Parish filed a Petition for Declaratory Judgment in the trial court below, naming Wesley as defendant and averring that Wesley's requests yielded a large number of emails and PAFs, each of which would have to be reviewed to determine whether it was subject to exemption, exception, or redaction.[3] Thus, the Parish sought a declaratory judgment setting a reasonable fee "to cover the expense of taxpayer dollars expended to comply with [Wesley's] request" and further setting a reasonable time period for the Parish to comply with the requests.

         Thereafter, Wesley filed an "Exception of No Cause of Action, No Right of Action, Motion to Dismiss with Incorporated Memorandum, Answer to Petition for Declaratory Judgment with Reconventional Demand." In the reconventional demand, in which she named the Parish and Andria Dollar, the Parish's custodian of public records, as defendants, Wesley contended that the custodian of records for the Parish had unreasonably and arbitrarily failed to respond to her requests. Thus, she sought writs of mandamus ordering the Parish to comply with her public records requests, as well as damages or penalties pursuant to La. R.S. 44:35.[4]

         On December 7, 2018, the trial court conducted a hearing on the Parish's Petition for Declaratory Judgment and Wesley's exceptions and motion to dismiss. Thereafter, by order dated December 17, 2018, the court denied Wesley's exceptions of no cause of action and no right of action and motion to dismiss and further granted the Parish's Petition for Declaratory Judgment, ordering Wesley to pay the Parish $10, 000.00 for the costs associated with redacting private information from the records she seeks."

         From this judgment, Wesley now appeals, listing six assignments of error.[5]

         DISCUSSION

         Through her second, third, and fifth assignments of error, Wesley contends that the trial court erred: (1) in finding that the Parish had a right to institute proceedings against her, where the Public Records Law does not afford a public entity the right to bring a lawsuit to set costs for review of requested records; (2) in finding that the request was burdensome; and (3) in setting a $10, 000.00 fee for the review and ...


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