Phoenix Newspapers v. Jane Doe – 6/12/2007

June 15, 2007

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That a Notice of Claim Is a Public Record.

Phoenix Newspapers, Inc. (“PNI”) filed a special action challenging the trial court’s order that a Notice of Claim filed with a school district is not a public record subject to disclosure under Arizona’s public records law, Arizona Revised Statutes (“A.R.S.”) sections 39-121 to 39-121.03 (2001 and Supp. 2006). The Notice of Claim (“Notice”) was filed on behalf of a minor, Jane Doe (“Doe”), who was the victim of a sexual assault at one of the district’s high schools. The Court of Appeals accepted special action jurisdiction, and “easily” concluded that the Notice of Claim is a public record.

The Court of Appeals further explained that there is a general presumption in favor of disclosure of public records and that the burden of showing a probability that specific, material harm will result from disclosure (thus justifying an exception to the usual rule of full disclosure), is on the party that seeks non-disclosure rather than on the party that seeks access. In a given case, a party could meet this burden with respect to certain parts of a Notice of Claim and not others. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals remanded to the probate court to conduct an in-camera review of the Notice and determine what parts of the Notice, if any, should be redacted because Doe’s specific interests in privacy outweigh the public’s interests in access to public records.

The decision was authored by Judge Irvine; Judges Thompson and Snow concurred.