63 P.3d 1147 (Nev. 2003), 40393, City of Reno v. Reno Gazette-Journal

Docket Nº:40393.
Citation:63 P.3d 1147, 119 Nev. 55
Opinion Judge:[10] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Per Curiam
Party Name:CITY OF RENO, Appellant, v. RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL, Respondent.
Attorney:[7] Patricia A. Lynch, City Attorney, and Jonathan D. Shipman,
Case Date:February 28, 2003
Court:Supreme Court of Nevada
 
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Page 1147

63 P.3d 1147 (Nev. 2003)

119 Nev. 55

CITY OF RENO, Appellant,

v.

RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL, Respondent.

No. 40393.

Supreme Court of Nevada

February 28, 2003.

Patricia A. Lynch, City Attorney, and Jonathan D. Shipman, Deputy City Attorney, Reno, for Appellant.

Burton, Bartlett & Glogovac and Phillip W. Bartlett and Rebecca A. Rivenbark, Reno, for Respondent.

McDonald Carano Wilson LLP and Michael A.T. Pagni and Sylvia L. Harrison, Reno, for Amicus Curiae Truckee Meadows Water Authority.

Before the Court En Banc.

OPINION

PER CURIAM.

In this appeal, we are asked to consider whether documents related to relocation and acquisition of property for the Reno Transportation Rail Access Corridor Project (ReTRAC) are public information, requiring disclosure under the Nevada Public Records Act. We conclude that these records have been declared confidential by law. Therefore, they are exempt from disclosure under the Nevada Public Records Act.

FACTS

In December 1998, the City of Reno (City) entered into an agreement with the Union Pacific Railroad to build ReTRAC. The purpose of ReTRAC is to eliminate eleven existing at-grade rail crossings in downtown Reno by building a trench for trains to travel through the City. ReTRAC is the largest public works project the City has ever undertaken, with an estimated budget of

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$200,000,000. The budget for ReTRAC has been the subject of immense controversy and several lawsuits.

To complete this project, the City must acquire certain real property, including thirty-two parcels along the railroad right-of-way. Additionally, approximately fifty-two businesses may have to be relocated to accommodate the project. Because ReTRAC is classified as a federal highway project, the City must comply with the federal Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970 (the Act). 1 The Cooperative (Stewardship) Agreement between the City and the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT), the Federal Highway Administration's agent for ReTRAC, specifically states that the City must provide written certification to NDOT that all new right-of-way was acquired in accordance with the Act.

On July 30, 2002, Anjeanette Damon, a reporter employed by the Reno Gazette-Journal (RGJ), sent a letter to Brent Boyer, Property Program Manager of the City, requesting access to appraisal and other documents related to ReTRAC. Specifically, Damon requested access to: (1) the appraisal values for each of the thirty-two parcels of property to be acquired by the City for ReTRAC, including the monetary amount offered by the City for each title acquisition, acquisition of buildings on the railroad right-of-way, and acquisition of temporary and permanent easements; (2) the monetary amount to be offered to each of the fifty-two businesses that may have to be relocated because of the project; (3) a specific breakdown of any other costs included in the project's $17,760,000 property-acquisition budget; and (4) the name and physical address of each property owner, leaseholder and tenant who would receive payment from the City with the list of appraisal values and relocation payments.

In a letter dated August 1, 2002, the City denied Damon's request on the grounds that state and federal law classify all records maintained by the City relating to ReTRAC property acquisition and relocation as confidential as a matter of law regarding their use as public information.

The RGJ then petitioned the district court for a writ of mandamus. The RGJ argued that the acquisition and relocation records are public records and are required to be open for inspection under the Nevada Public Records Act. As a consequence, the district court issued a writ, directing the City to provide copies of such documents or show cause why such documents should not be provided. The City filed an opposition to the RGJ's petition. After a hearing, the district court issued a permanent writ of mandamus directing the City to provide copies of the requested documents to the RGJ.

The City filed a notice of appeal with this court and a motion for stay pending appeal with the district court. Because the district court denied the motion for a stay, the City filed an emergency motion to stay the writ with this court, which we granted.

DISCUSSION

Standard of review

"A district court's decision to grant or deny a writ petition is reviewed by this court under an abuse of discretion standard." 2 However, questions of statutory construction, including the meaning and scope of a statute, are questions of law, which this court reviews de novo. 3

Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970

The United States Congress enacted the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970 4 to establish "a uniform policy for the fair and equitable treatment of persons displaced as a

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direct result of programs or projects undertaken by a Federal agency or with Federal financial assistance." 5 The Act requires a state agency to comply with the Act's policies whenever the agency seeks federal financial assistance for "any program or project which will result in the acquisition of real property on and after January 2, 1971." 6 ]

NRS 342.105

In 1989, the Nevada Legislature enacted NRS 342.105. This statute provides, in relevant part:

Any department, agency, instrumentality or political subdivision of this state, or any other public or private entity, which...

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