Kentucky Supreme Court Rules for City in Important Open Records Act Decision
Posted January 2, 2014
The Kentucky Supreme Court recently rendered its decision in Kentucky New Era, Inc. v. City of Hopkinsville, providing important guidance for cities regarding city redaction policies and the extent of the privacy exemption under the Kentucky Open Records Act.
The Court held:
“[The Open Records Act] includes an express exemption for agency records the disclosure of which would amount to a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. The City of Hopkinsville has justly concluded that the public disclosure of the social security numbers, the driver's license numbers, the home addresses, and the phone numbers of victims, witnesses, and uncharged suspects appearing in its police department's arrest and incident reports, as well as all references to juveniles, would constitute, in the vast majority of cases, a clearly unwarranted invasion of those persons' privacy. Its policy of redacting that information before disclosing the reports is in accordance with the Act.”
The decision stems from a request made from the Kentucky New Era newspaper to the City of Hopkinsville in 2009, asking for police records regarding certain crimes. The New Era challenged the city’s decision to withhold records involving juveniles, and redact from other records personal data of victims, witnesses and suspects.
First finding that persons have privacy interests in their addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers and driver’s license numbers, the Court then analyzed whether the invasion of these privacy interests was unwarranted, as required by the Open Records Act to invoke the privacy exception. To make this determination, the Court weighed the privacy interests against the public’s interest in disclosure, and determined that the “public interest in monitoring the police department clearly does not extend” to providing the personal data listed above, absent a substantial reason to believe the redacted information could shed meaningful light on how well the police department was performing its duties to the public.
The Court also found a heightened privacy interest for juvenile victims and witnesses, as well as perpetrators, that justified withholding of the names of juveniles in addition to the other personal data.
The New Era also challenged the city’s redaction of certain categories of information – here, personal data of private citizens in police records – as a matter of policy. The Court distinguished a “categorical redaction policy” from a “blanket redaction policy,” upholding the city’s determination that, with respect to a particular, recurring class of information, it is appropriate to categorically withhold information in that class when the privacy/ public-interest balancing characteristically tips in the direction of privacy.
The Kentucky Supreme Court’s decision is extremely important to all Kentucky cities, because it sets a legal precedent supporting cities’ decisions to similarly withhold or redact records in response to open records requests.
The Kentucky League of Cities provided legal assistance to the City of Hopkinsville at no charge as a part of the KLC Legal Advocacy Program, which represents the collective legal interests of member cities throughout the Commonwealth. If you have any questions regarding this ruling, Open Records Act exemptions or other legal issues, please contact KLC’s legal department at 1-800-876-455
KLC Legal Advocacy Program - Major Victory for City Annexations
Major Kentucky Supreme Court Victory for City Annexations
On March 20, 2014, the Kentucky Supreme Court issued its opinion in Lebanon v. Goodin, regarding the legality of the city’s actions in pursuing a nonconsensual annexation. In a 6-1 decision, the Court upheld the annexation and provided vital guidance that supports the growth of Kentucky cities. To read the full Supreme Court opinion, go here.
This monumental Supreme Court decision reversed the opinion of the Kentucky Court of Appeals, which had ruled that Lebanon's annexation was invalid because boundaries of annexed territory must be “natural or regular” to meet the contiguity requirement of KRS 81A.410. The Court of Appeals said the boundaries were not natural or regular because the city assessed which property owners supported annexation and drew the boundary lines of the new territory to attempt to include enough supportive property owners to ensure a successful annexation.
The Kentucky Supreme Court disagreed, holding that state law requires annexed territory to be “adjacent or contiguous” to the city, but does not require annexation boundaries to be “natural or regular.” The Court took the opportunity to further interpret the meaning of “adjacent or contiguous,” specifically holding that KRS 81A.410 allows a city to “annex territory that is either nearby, e.g., perhaps separated by a roadway or river, or touching the boundary of the city.” Any attempt to add a standard requiring boundaries to be natural or regular, the Court held, misapplies current state law, because there is no support for “the notion that shape is a critical factor under Kentucky law in determining the validity of annexations.”
The Court also refused to delve into the motives of the city officials in accomplishing the annexation, reiterating that annexation is a political act within the exclusive control of the legislature, and that “a city’s supposed knowledge of an annexation’s potential success must be seen as mere speculation or conjecture.” Furthermore, the Court held that courts should refrain from relying heavily on depositions of city officials to determine motives, because “a city speaks through its ordinances… Instead, the focus should be on the result of the proper legislative action and whether or not there was a rational connection between the actions taken and the supporting evidence.”
In this case, the Court held, Lebanon properly found the territory suitable for annexation in accordance with Kentucky law. Therefore, the annexation was valid, and the actions taken by the city were not unconstitutionally arbitrary.
This is an extremely important victory for cities across the state. It is now settled that the shape of annexed territory will not invalidate a nonconsensual annexation, as long as the territory is reasonably near or touching the boundary of the city and otherwise meets the requirements of KRS Chapter 81A. Additionally, as long as there is a rational basis for city officials’ decisions regarding an annexation, officials can proceed with the important business of expanding their boundaries without improper speculation into their motives. Ultimately, this decision protects the integrity of the annexation process, as well as the integrity of separation of powers so central to our government system.
KLC is proud to have contributed to this victory through the KLC Legal Advocacy Program by submitting an amicus curiae brief, which advocated for many of the holdings adopted by the Court.
The KLC Legal Advocacy Program represents the collective legal interests of KLC's member cities in the courts throughout the Commonwealth. As apparent in this case, much of the law affecting municipal government in Kentucky is shaped and made in the courts.
KLC will intervene as amicus curiae or otherwise assist municipal counsel with the preparation of a city's case-in-chief where KLC's participation is likely to positively advance cities' collective legal interests by establishing legal precedent that will help cities more effectively serve their citizens. In the past five years, KLC has participated in or assisted with at least 10 cases, and notably helped with important victories for cities regarding legislative prayer, open records exemptions, and the charter county government process.
Any member city or agency may make a request to the KLC for intervention or assistance. For more information about this program or the latest cases in which KLC has participated, please contact Laura Ross, Managing Counsel for Member Legal Services, at 800-876-4552.
Impact of Obergefell v. Hodges Decision on Kentucky Cities
Impact of Obergefell v. Hodges Decision on Kentucky Cities
On Friday, June 26,2016 the United States Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. So what does that mean for city governments in Kentucky?
The decision reaffirms the February 25, 2015 Department of Labor Final Rule revising the regulatory definition of spouse under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA). This amendment to the rule provided that same sex-spouses must be treated the same as opposite-sex spouses under the Family Medical Leave Act. For example, the DOL Final Rule and the Supreme Court ruling will allow eligible employees to take FMLA leave to care for their same-sex spouse with a serious health condition and to take qualifying exigency leave if a same-sex spouse is being deployed for military duty.
Therefore, cities that are required to provide FMLA to eligible employees (i.e., those cities with 50 or more employees) need to make sure their FMLA policies conform to this change and that administrative staff are properly trained to properly apply the policy. .
Other impacts based on this decision include the following:
- Employee handbooks: Cities should review and update all employee handbooks, policies, and procedures to extend to same-sex spouses the same rights given to opposite-sex spouses.
- Taxes: Because same-sex couples can now file their state and federal taxes jointly, employers may need to update their W-4 forms to account for their change in status.
- Other benefits: Discretionary benefits extended by cities, such as bereavement and sick leave, must be applied uniformly to all legally married couples.
- COBRA: Same-sex spouses are now also covered by COBRA.
- Pensions, qualified retirement accounts, and IRAs: Employers may need to allow employees to change their beneficiary designations.
- Employee benefits: Employees may now be eligible for employer-provided fringe benefits like health insurance.
Obergefell is not an employment law case and does not directly implicate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While the Civil Rights Act does not specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity/expression, gender stereotyping, harassment, and the discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals may still give rise to a gender discrimination claim under Title VII. In addition, this decision will not impact “Fairness” ordinances that some cities have adopted that provide additional protections for LGBT individuals against discrimination, such as in housing practices and employment decisions.
For additional information or questions on the Obergefell decision or for sample policies, contact Andrea Shindlebower, Personnel Services Specialist with the KLC Member Legal Services Department.