A rather intriguing public records fight is currently taking place in Rankin County Chancery Court over the Pinelands Public Improvement District. The district covers the area surrounding the Hugh Ward Parkway in Rankin County. The district sold bonds for $7.125 million to finance improvements. The Pinebrook Homeowner's Association and several homeowners filed a lawsuit to obtain district records in November after the district did not respond to several public records requests. The lawsuit states:
5. On July 27, 2016 and again on October 20, 2016, the Plaintiff made a written request for a copy of the Defendant's copies of the minutes of all Board meetings for FY 2012, FY 2013, FY 2104, FY 2015, and FY 2016 which are maintained under Section 19-31-9.6 of the Miss. Code Ann. including all minutes relating to the hiring and compensation of a district manager and treasurer.
6.On July 27, 2016 and again on October 20, 2016, the Plaintiff made a written request for a copy of the Defendant's copies of annual audits for 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 pursuant to Miss Code Ann. §19-31-11 requiring financial records be annually audited by an independent CPA.
7. On July 27, 2016 and again on October 20, 2016, the Plaintiff made a written request for a copy of the Defendant's copies of annual remittance reports received from governmental agency, county and/or municipalities with which the PID has contributions agreements.
8. On July 27, 2016 and again on October 20, 2016, the Plaintiff made a written request for a copy of the Defendant's copies of transaction detail reports for 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 for all accounts.
They also asked for bank statements, correspondence between board members and vendors, and other various records.
The complaint alleges that the district did not even acknowledge or even deny the request. Attorney Mel Coxwell represents the plaintiffs. The case is assigned to Chancellor John McLaurin.
The defendant did not cave in at the first sight of a lawsuit but ran over to our old friends at Copeland Cook Taylor & Bush. Pinelands filed an answer with no less than 36 defenses to the public records lawsuit (Not even Lord Snow got that creative for Mattiace). Some of the defenses are:
some or all of the Plaintiffs’ claims should be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, for among other reasons, Plaintiff cannot prove that Defendant is subject to the Mississippi Public Records Act. (KF note: PID's are created by state law. They are public bodies. The governing law is Section 19-31 of the Mississippi Code.)
Some or all of the Plaintiffs’ claims should be dismissed as such claims are barred by the applicable statute of limitations and/or the doctrine of laches. (KF note: There is no statute of limitations for public records requests.)
Plaintiffs’ claims should be dismissed because of Plaintiffs’ lack of standing (KF: Anyone can ask for a public record and sue for one if denied. Defendants will be hard pressed to find a precedent that supports this notion.).
To the extent that Plaintiffs may have been damaged, the damages were proximately caused in whole or in part by their own comparative negligence. (KF: negligence in filing a public records request? That is a new one.)
While denying that the Plaintiffs can establish that Defendant is subject to the Public Records Act, Defendant affirmatively pleads that Plaintiffs have failed to comply with the Public Records Act in their requests. (KF: How?)
The response that states several defenses on the matter of punitive damages even though the plaintiffs only asked for the court to award court costs and attorney's fees. One must ask if Copeland Cook was filing a good-faith defense on behalf of its client or if it was instead trying to run up the bill.