Update: On September 12, 2023, the North Carolina Court of Appeals issued an opinion awarding summary judgement and attorney fees to WBTV. The Court reiterated that the North Carolina Public Records Act must be “liberally construed to ensure that governmental records be open and made available to the public” and that the Act applies even if the agency only has constructive control of records.
On March 23, the Alliance joined a brief, filed in the North Carolina Court of Appeals, arguing that the North Carolina Public Records Act requires a government agency to disclose records that are in the possession of a third-party contractor, but that are still within the agency’s control. In Gray Media Group (WBTV) v. City of Charlotte, the City of Charlotte (“City”) denied WBTV’s request for documents related to a contract with consulting firm Ernst & Young (“EY”), arguing that the records were in EY’s possession and not in the City’s custody, control, or possession as defined by the Act. WBTV sued and the City subsequently issued a subpoena duces tecum to EY, which produced the records. The lower court awarded summary judgement to the City, finding that WBTV’s motion for injunctive and declaratory relief was moot. The brief, filed by RCFP, argues that the Act requires that an agency disclose documents that are within their constructive control, even if they are in the actual possession of a third party. This case is important in protecting the ability of journalists to rely on the Act as a powerful tool for government oversight and accountability. Read more.
Charlotte McBirney is Senior Counsel and Director, Public Policy for the News/Media Alliance.