Citizens Action Coal. Indiana v. Koch, No. 49S00–1510–PL–00607.

Docket NºNo. 49S00–1510–PL–00607.
Citation51 N.E.3d 236
Case DateApril 19, 2016
CourtSupreme Court of Indiana

51 N.E.3d 236

CITIZENS ACTION COALITION OF INDIANA, Energy and Policy Institute, and Common Cause of Indiana, Appellants (Plaintiffs below)
v.
Eric KOCH, and Indiana House Republican Caucus, Appellees (Defendants below).

No. 49S00–1510–PL–00607.

Supreme Court of Indiana.

April 19, 2016.
Rehearing Denied July 12, 2016.


51 N.E.3d 238

William R. Groth, David T. Vlink, Fillenwarth Dennerline Groth & Towe, LLP, Indianapolis, IN, Attorneys for Appellant.

Geoffrey G. Slaughter, Russell C. Menyhart, Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP, Indianapolis, IN, Attorneys for Appellee.

Kurt A. Webber, Indiana Coalition for Open Government, Inc., Carmel, IN, Attorney for Amicus Curiae.

On Direct Appeal Pursuant to Indiana Appellate Rule 56(A).

DAVID, Justice.

The case before us involves the delicate balance that must be maintained between the three branches of government. This Court has been called upon to determine whether it should exercise its jurisdiction

51 N.E.3d 239

to resolve a dispute, or decline to do so in order to faithfully uphold Indiana's express constitutional separation of powers. Because the issue before the Court would require invasion into a core function of the legislative branch, this Court declines to exercise its jurisdiction. Whether the work product exception within the Indiana Access to Public Records Act applies to the Indiana General Assembly presents a non-justiciable question. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's order of dismissal.

Facts and Procedural History

The Energy and Policy Institute, a pro-clean energy think tank, made three separate requests to Indiana House Representative Eric Koch under the Indiana Access to Public Records Act (APRA), located at Indiana Code section 5–14–3–1, et. seq. These requests sought copies of Representative Koch's, and his staff's, correspondence with various business organizations in relation to specific legislation. Each of these requests were denied by the Chief Counsel of the Republican Caucus.

The first request was denied on January 20, 2015, and the second on February 9, 2015. In both, the Chief Counsel explained that APRA does not apply to the Indiana General Assembly and that it is “House tradition to treat all correspondence as confidential.” (App. at 15, 19.) After these denials, a formal complaint was filed with the Indiana Public Access Counselor, which alleged that Representative Koch and the Indiana House Republican Caucus had violated APRA. Public Access Counselor, Luke Britt, issued an advisory opinion concluding that APRA does apply to the Indiana General Assembly, but that the majority of what was requested would fall into the “legislative work product exception pursuant to Ind.Code § 5–14–3–4(b)(14).” (App. at 21–22.) After the third request was denied, in which the Chief Counsel also asserted that the requested records were discretionarily exempt from disclosure as legislative “work product,” another complaint was filed with the Public Access Counselor. The second advisory opinion concluded that the third request had met specificity and reasonable particularity requirements, but the “disclosure or denial of the work product is at the discretion of the legislature.” (App. at 29–30.)

On April 15, 2015, the Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, the Energy and Policy Institute, and Common Cause of Indiana (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) filed a complaint against Representative Koch and the Indiana House Republican Caucus (collectively, “Defendants”). Plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that APRA was applicable to Representative Koch and the Caucus and that Defendants had violated APRA by denying some or all of Plaintiffs' requests. Plaintiffs also sought an order for Defendants to disclose any records deemed by the court to be non-exempt.

On June 26, 2015, Defendants filed a Rule 12(B) Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Justiciability, and Alternatively, for Failure to State a Claim. Defendants' argued that dismissal was appropriate under Indiana Trial Rule 12(B)(1)1 because Plaintiffs' requests would “interfere with the internal workings of the legislature,” and should be found non-justiciable on those grounds. (App. at 33.) Alternatively, Defendants assert that Indiana Trial Rule 12(B)(6)2 would also provide three (3)

51 N.E.3d 240

grounds for dismissal: (1) two of the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the suit; (2) neither Representative Koch nor the Republican Caucus is a “public agency” under APRA; and (3) the Caucus is not a proper party for the additional reason that the requests were made solely to Representative Koch.

After a hearing on the motions, the trial court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss under Rule 12(B)(1), concluding that the issue was non-justiciable. The court did not address Defendants' other grounds for dismissal that were brought under Rule 12(B)(6). Plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal and then requested that this Court accept jurisdiction pursuant to Indiana Appellate Rule 56(A).3 This Court granted the motion, accepting jurisdiction.

We now hold that the Indiana Supreme Court does have subject matter jurisdiction to hear the case, which is distinguishable from a determination of whether a case is justiciable. As to the general applicability of APRA to the legislature, we hold that this issue is justiciable and conclude that APRA does apply to the Indiana General Assembly, necessarily including the members and groups that make up the General Assembly. However, under our controlling precedent in State ex rel. Masariu v. Marion Superior Court No. 1, 621 N.E.2d 1097 (Ind.1993) and Berry v. Crawford, 990 N.E.2d 410 (Ind.2013), we hold that the specific question of whether the APRA requests at issue in this case are exempt from disclosure as legislative “work product” is non-justiciable.

Standard of Review

“Where the facts before the trial court are not in dispute, the question of subject matter jurisdiction is one of law and we review the trial court's ruling de novo. Berry, 990 N.E.2d at 414 (Ind.2013) (citing GKN Co. v. Magness, 744 N.E.2d 397, 401 (Ind.2001) ). “Likewise ... we review all conclusions of law de novo.Id.

I. The Court has Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Before addressing the specific issues raised in the current case, we find it prudent to restate the distinction between jurisdiction and justiciability. Jurisdiction is properly defined as “[a] court's power to decide a case or issue a decree.” Id. at 417 (citing Black's Law Dictionary 927 (9th ed.2009)). Alternatively, justiciability is “[t]he quality or state of being appropriate or suitable for adjudication by a court.” Id. at 418 (citing Black's Law Dictionary 943). Thus, dismissal for the lack of justiciability is separate and distinct from having subject matter jurisdiction. Declining to hear a case on grounds of non-justiciability arises due to “prudential concerns over the appropriateness of a case for adjudication.” Id.

Article 7, Section 4 of the Indiana Constitution sets out the jurisdiction of the Indiana Supreme Court: “[t]he Supreme Court shall exercise appellate jurisdiction under such terms and conditions as specified by rules....” Under Indiana Appellate Rule 4, “[t]he Supreme Court shall have discretionary jurisdiction over cases in which it grants Transfer under Rule 56....” In the present case, this Court granted transfer under Indiana Appellate Rule 56(A), which provides in relevant part, “[i]n rare cases, the Supreme

51 N.E.3d 241

Court may, upon verified motion of a party, accept jurisdiction over an appeal that would otherwise be within the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals upon showing that the appeal involves a substantial question of law of great public importance and that an emergency exists requiring a speedy determination.” Accordingly, this Court has subject matter jurisdiction over the present case. We further conclude that it was error for the trial court to dismiss this action under Indiana Trial Rule 12(B)(1) for lack of jurisdiction.

II. The Claim is Non–Justiciable

As provided above, justiciability is not a question of jurisdiction, but whether it is prudent for the Court to exercise its jurisdiction. Because we agree that the core question is non-justiciable, under Indiana Trial Rule 12(B)(6), we affirm the trial court's dismissal of this claim. See McPeek v. McCardle, 888 N.E.2d 171, 174 (Ind.2008) (explaining that this Court “may affirm the grant of a motion to dismiss if it is sustainable on any theory”).

The Indiana Constitution explicitly provides for the separation of powers: “The powers of the Government are divided into three separate departments; the Legislative, the Executive including the Administrative, and the Judicial; and no person, charged with official duties under one of these departments, shall exercise any of the functions of another, except as in this Constitution expressly provided.” Article 3, § 1. “[A]lthough the courts have jurisdiction to review [a] case in the first instance, justiciability concerns stemming from Article 3, Section 1, caution courts to intervene only where doing so would...

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11 practice notes
  • Nate v. Denney, Docket No. 45001-2017
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Idaho
    • July 18, 2017
    ...authority.... does not ... extend to the legislative branch of our state government."); Citizens Action Coal. of Indiana v. Koch , 51 N.E.3d 236, 241 (Ind. 2016) ("To maintain the separation of powers, this Court ‘should not intermeddle with the internal functions of either the Ex......
  • Nate v. Denney, Docket No. 45001-2017
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Idaho
    • July 18, 2017
    ...authority.... does not ... extend to the legislative branch of our state government."); Citizens Action Coal. of Indiana v. Koch , 51 N.E.3d 236, 241 (Ind. 2016) ("To maintain the separation of powers, this Court ‘should not intermeddle with the internal functions of either the Ex......
  • Holcomb v. City of Bloomington, Supreme Court Case No. 19S-PL-304
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • December 15, 2020
    ...and we have cited these concerns to find an issue nonjusticiable in two recent cases. See Citizens Action Coal. of Ind. v. Koch , 51 N.E.3d 236, 241–243 (Ind. 2016) (declining to define legislative "work product" for purposes of Indiana's Access to Public Records Acts because doin......
  • Tyms-Bey v. State, Court of Appeals Case No. 49A05-1603-CR-439
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • January 13, 2017
    ...mandate and is "a pre-emptive strike on a matter that deserves further record development." Citizens Action Coalition v. Koch , 51 N.E.3d 236, 243 (Ind. 2016) (Rucker, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part). Without question, the majority is concerned, as were the dissente......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
11 cases
  • Nate v. Denney, Docket No. 45001-2017
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Idaho
    • July 18, 2017
    ...authority.... does not ... extend to the legislative branch of our state government."); Citizens Action Coal. of Indiana v. Koch , 51 N.E.3d 236, 241 (Ind. 2016) ("To maintain the separation of powers, this Court ‘should not intermeddle with the internal functions of either the Executive or......
  • Nate v. Denney, Docket No. 45001-2017
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Idaho
    • July 18, 2017
    ...authority.... does not ... extend to the legislative branch of our state government."); Citizens Action Coal. of Indiana v. Koch , 51 N.E.3d 236, 241 (Ind. 2016) ("To maintain the separation of powers, this Court ‘should not intermeddle with the internal functions of either the Executive or......
  • Holcomb v. City of Bloomington, Supreme Court Case No. 19S-PL-304
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • December 15, 2020
    ...and we have cited these concerns to find an issue nonjusticiable in two recent cases. See Citizens Action Coal. of Ind. v. Koch , 51 N.E.3d 236, 241–243 (Ind. 2016) (declining to define legislative "work product" for purposes of Indiana's Access to Public Records Acts because doing so would......
  • Tyms-Bey v. State, Court of Appeals Case No. 49A05-1603-CR-439
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • January 13, 2017
    ...to RFRA's mandate and is "a pre-emptive strike on a matter that deserves further record development." Citizens Action Coalition v. Koch , 51 N.E.3d 236, 243 (Ind. 2016) (Rucker, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part). Without question, the majority is concerned, as were the dissente......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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