Friday, November 13, 2009

Caperton V. Massey Decision After Remand

The West Virginia Supreme Court has decided the Caperton v. Massey case on remand from the United States Supreme Court. The court's decision is linked here. The bottom line:

For the reasons stated in the body of this opinion, we reverse the judgment in this case and remand for the circuit court to enter an order dismissing this case against A.T. Massey Coal Company and its subsidiaries with prejudice.

The court also issued an opinion holding that 13 emails between Justice Maynard and Donald Blankenship were not public records and were thus exempt from disclosure. The litigation had been brought by the AP. The court's reasoning:

...we conclude that none of the thirteen e-mails at issue herein constituted a public record under FOIA. None of the e-mail's contents involved the official duties, responsibilities or obligations of Justice Maynard as a duly-elected member of this Court. Twelve of the e- mails simply provided URL links to privately-operated internet websites that carried news articles Justice Maynard believed Mr. Blankenship would be interested in reading. All twelve of the news articles were written by private entities and were already in the public domain. The thirteenth e-mail did nothing more than provide Mr. Blankenship with the agenda for a meeting being held by a private organization. Consequently, logic dictates that we conclude that not one of the thirteen e-mails was related in any manner to either the conduct of the public business, or to the official duties, responsibilities or obligations of the particular public body, which was in this instance, Justice Maynard. In the final analysis, if we adopted the AP's position that these e-mails constituted public records, then “a grocery list written by a government employee while at work, a communication to schedule a family dinner, or a child's report card stored in a desk drawer in a government employee's office would be subject to disclosure. [FOIA] was never intended to encompass such documents[.]" (citations omitted)

Justice Workman reserved the right to file a dissenting opinion in both cases. (Mike Frisch)

Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink

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