Houston v. Rutledge

Decision Date19 October 1976
Docket NumberNo. 31262,31262
PartiesJames B. HOUSTON, Jr., et al. v. Jack T. RUTLEDGE, Sheriff.
CourtGeorgia Supreme Court

Hatcher, Stubbs, Land, Hollis & Rothschild, J. Madden Hatcher, Jr., Columbus, for appellants.

Lennie F. Davis, E. H. Polleys, Jr., Columbus, for appellee.

GUNTER, Justice.

The appellants are representatives of two Columbus, Georgia newspapers. They filed their complaint against the sheriff in the trial court. It contended that the sheriff had refused to let them inspect files maintained by him in his office relating to the deaths of inmates in the jail under his supervision during a period of several years; and it sought a judgment of the court requiring the sheriff to make these files available to them for inspection.

The sheriff filed responsive pleadings in which he admitted the existence and his possession of the files; he admitted that he had refused to make the files available to the appellants for inspection; he contended that the files were not public records that were available to the general public for inspection; and he further contended that the files were not prepared and maintained pursuant to any statute or ordinance but were merely prepared and maintained by him or at his direction as a matter of administrative discretion.

The trial judge conducted an evidentiary hearing, he rendered findings of fact and conclusions of law, and he entered a judgment in favor of the sheriff that dismissed the appellants' complaint on its merits. The appellants have come here for review of that judgment.

The issue for decision is whether the six files involved in this litigation are or are not 'public records' within the meaning of Code Ann. § 40-2701 which is a statutory provision that provides for the right of the public to inspect records. This statute reads: 'All State, county and municipal records, except those, which by order of a court of this State or by law, are prohibited from being open to inspection by the general public, shall be open for a personal inspection of any citizen of Georgia at a reasonable time and place, and those in charge of such records shall not refuse this privilege to any citizen.'

In resolving the issue in this case the judiciary must determine the meaning of this statute, not in the abstract, but in the very real and practical factual situation presented by these contesting parties. Put another way, the judiciary must determine the applicability or non-applicability of this statute to the six particular files involved in this case.

First, are these six files 'public records' within the meaning of this statute? These files, and the documents or papers contained therein, are not required to be made and maintained by any statute or ordinance. However, the transcript shows that they were prepared and are maintained by the sheriff, or at his direction, in the ordinary course and operation of this public office. We therefore conclude that documents, papers, and records prepared and maintained in the course of the operation of a public office are 'public records' within the meaning of this statute, and it is immaterial that such documents, papers, and records were not required to be prepared and maintained pursuant to a statute or ordinance.

Having determined that the six files...

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24 cases
  • Reinstein v. Police Com'r of Boston
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • 19 d2 Junho d2 1979
    ...the legality of police conduct, often against a contention that those reports were exempt as "investigatory," see Houston v. Rutledge, 237 Ga. 764, 229 S.E.2d 624 (1976) (files concerning deaths of prison inmates); Montes v. State, 94 Misc.2d 972, 406 N.Y.S.2d 664 (N.Y.1978) (personnel reco......
  • Castell v. State
    • United States
    • Georgia Supreme Court
    • 16 d3 Março d3 1983
    ...for possible federal prosecutions. On this basis, the trial court denied the defendant's motion. We find no error. Houston v. Rutledge, 237 Ga. 764, 229 S.E.2d 624 (1976). copy of any statement given by him while in police custody." &nb......
  • Hyde v. City of Columbia
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • 15 d2 Junho d2 1982
    ...1975); N.L.R.B. v. Robbins Tire & Rubber Co., 437 U.S. 214, 220(1), 98 S.Ct. 2311, 2316, 57 L.Ed.2d 159 (1978); Houston v. Rutledge, 237 Ga. 764, 229 S.E.2d 624, 626 (1976); Lodge v. Knowlton, 118 N.H. 574, 391 A.2d 893, 894(1) (1978); Commercial Printing Co. v. Rush, 261 Ark. 468, 549 S.W.......
  • Evening News Ass'n v. City of Troy
    • United States
    • Michigan Supreme Court
    • 24 d1 Outubro d1 1983
    ...in the New York cases. Third, several other states, considering similar documents, did not apply blanket exemptions. Houston v. Rutledge, 237 Ga. 764, 229 S.E.2d 624 (1976) (files relating to deaths of jail inmates compiled by sheriff's department); Reinstein v. Police Comm'r of Boston, 378......
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