Early this week, the Indiana Supreme Court issued an important decision in Shepherd Properties Co. v. Int’l Union of Painters and Allied Trades, District Council 91, 202 Ind. LEXIS 636 (July 31, 2012),  relating to attorneys’ fee liability arising out of a violation of Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act (APRA), Ind. Code § 5-14-3-1, et. seq. 

The Shepherd Co. case arises out of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades’ (the “Union”) request to
inspect and copy payroll records in the possession of the Metropolitan School District of Warren Township (the “School”).  The Union claimed that the payroll records were “public records” subject to disclosure under APRA. Shepherd Co. and the School contended that the payroll records were trade secrets and confidential financial information that fell under exceptions within the APRA.  
Pursuant to the APRA, Shepherd Co. made an informal inquiry of the Public Access Counselor (PAC) regarding disclosure of the records.  Later, the Union requested a formal advisory opinion from the PAC.  Both times, the PAC concluded that the records did not need to be disclosed.  Specifically, the PAC’s formal advisory opinion concluded that the records were “trade secrets” and “confidential financial information” that were exempt from disclosure under the APRA.

In October of 2008, the Union filed a complaint against the School only seeking to compel disclosure under the APRA.  The School moved to add Shepherd Co. as a necessary party.  The trial court denied that motion, but it granted Shepherd Co.’s subsequent motion to intervene.  The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment.  In its motion, the Union requested prevailing party attorneys’ fees pursuant to a provision in the APRA.  After a hearing, the trial court entered judgment in favor of the Union and against the School and Shepherd Co.  In a subsequent hearing on Union’s request for attorneys’ fees, the trial court awarded the Union $20,234 in attorneys’ fees against the School and the Union, jointly and severally.

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