April 14, 2016 – Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida
The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday issued a broadly worded ruling that made clear public agencies are liable for paying attorney’s fees if they violate the state’s open-records law.
The 5-2 ruling dealt with cases in which people successfully sue agencies for failing to comply with the records law. Justices rejected arguments that agencies should be shielded from paying plaintiffs’ legal fees if public-records requests are handled in “good faith.”
“In accordance with case law liberally construing the Public Records Act in favor of open access to public records, the reasonable statutory construction of the attorney’s fee provision, and the letter and spirit of the constitutional right to inspect or copy public records, we hold that a prevailing party is entitled to statutory attorney’s fees under the Public Records Act when the trial court finds that the public agency violated a provision of the Public Records Act in failing to permit a public record to be inspected or copied,” said the majority opinion, written by Justice Barbara Pariente and joined by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and justices R. Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince and James E.C. Perry. “There is no additional requirement, before awarding attorney’s fees under the Public Records Act, that the trial court find that the public agency did not act in good faith, acted in bad faith, or acted unreasonably.” [READ MORE]