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