San Juan Agricultural Water Users Ass'n v. Knme–tv

Decision Date08 March 2011
Docket NumberNo. 32,139.,32,139.
Citation257 P.3d 884,150 N.M. 64,2011 -NMSC- 011
PartiesSAN JUAN AGRICULTURAL WATER USERS ASSOCIATION, Electors Concerned About Animas Water, and Steve Cone, Plaintiffs–Petitioners,v.KNME–TV, Board of Education of the Albuquerque Public Schools, Board of Regents of the University of New Mexico, John D'Antonio, New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, and Office of the Governor of New Mexico, Defendants–Respondents.
CourtNew Mexico Supreme Court

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Victor R. Marshall & Associates, P.C., Victor R. Marshall, Albuquerque, NM, for Petitioners.Long, Pound & Komer, P.A., Mark Travis Baker, Santa Fe, NM, for Respondents.Peifer, Hanson & Mullins, P.A., Charles R. Peifer, Matthew R. Hoyt, Elizabeth K. Radosevich, Albuquerque, NM, for Amicus Curiae New Mexico Foundation for Open Government.

OPINION

DANIELS, Chief Justice.

{1} The New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA), NMSA 1978, §§ 14–2–1 to –12 (1947, as amended through 2009), provides in Section 14–2–12(A)(2) that a person may bring an enforcement suit if that person's written request to inspect public records has been denied. In this case, we hold that a person may bring suit to enforce a public records request made through an agent, even if the agent did not disclose that the initial request was being made on behalf of another. We also hold that a person who has not requested public records, either personally or through an agent, does not have standing to seek judicial enforcement.

I. BACKGROUND

{2} Victor R. Marshall & Associates, P.C. (Marshall law firm) submitted written IPRA requests to inspect public records to multiple public agencies, including KNME–TV, the Board of Regents of the University of New Mexico (UNM), John D'Antonio of the Office of the State Engineer (State Engineer), the Interstate Stream Commission (Stream Commission), and the Office of the Governor of New Mexico. The Marshall law firm included its own name, address, and phone number on the requests, and none of the requests disclosed the fact that the request was being made on behalf of the Marshall law firm's client, the San Juan Agricultural Water Users Association (San Juan Association). In the written requests, the Marshall law firm asked each public entity to provide all public records relating to a documentary program, The Water Haulers, that aired on KNME–TV in January 2007 and discussed a proposed water rights settlement affecting the San Juan River Basin. Although the State Engineer, Stream Commission, Office of the Governor, and UNM each produced some records related to The Water Haulers, Plaintiffs contend that the production of documents was incomplete.

{3} In order to compel Defendants to produce the remainder of the requested records, the San Juan Association and two additional plaintiffs, Electors Concerned About Animas Water (Electors) and Steve Cone, brought a Section 14–2–12(A)(2) IPRA enforcement suit against Defendants. Electors, an environmental organization, and Cone, a teacher and environmental activist, represent that they joined the lawsuit because they asserted an interest in compelling full production of the documents relating to The Water Haulers, even though the Marshall law firm had not been acting as attorney or agent for Electors or Cone when the firm requested the records.

{4} Defendants moved to dismiss the case pursuant to Rule 1–012(B)(1) and (6) NMRA. They argued that Plaintiffs did not have a cause of action because “IPRA only creates rights in the person who actually requests public records and expressly limits the power to enforce its provisions to the requester, the attorney general, and district attorneys.” Attorney Victor Marshall responded with an affidavit stating that the Marshall law firm had been acting as attorney and agent for its client, the San Juan Association, when it submitted the records requests to Defendants. Defendants do not challenge Victor Marshall's assertion that the Marshall law firm had requested the records on behalf of the San Juan Association.

{5} The Second Judicial District Court granted the motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' complaint. The district court found that Electors and Cone did not have standing to sue because IPRA gives judicial enforcement remedies only to the attorney general, a district attorney, or “a person whose written request has been denied.” See § 14–2–12(A). The district court also concluded that the San Juan Association did not have standing to enforce a records request made through an agent because Section 14–2–8(C) requires all records requests to include “the name, address and telephone number of the person seeking access to the records.” Although the district court found that the Marshall law firm had been representing the San Juan Association when the firm made the records request, the court concluded that the San Juan Association did not have a cause of action under IPRA because the request did not disclose the San Juan Association's name, address, and phone number and because the Marshall law firm had not disclosed in the initial request that it was made on behalf of the San Juan Association.

{6} Plaintiffs appealed, arguing that neither IPRA nor the common law of agency requires a requesting agent to disclose its principal. San Juan Agric. Water Users Ass'n v. KNME–TV, 2010–NMCA–012, ¶ 5, 147 N.M. 643, 227 P.3d 612. Defendants argued that the district court's ruling should be upheld because it was supported by both the plain language of IPRA and the body of federal case law interpreting the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C.A. § 552 (Thomson Reuters, Westlaw 2011). San Juan Agric. Water Users Ass'n, 2010–NMCA–012, ¶ 9, 147 N.M. 643, 227 P.3d 612. The Court of Appeals upheld the district court. Id. ¶ 1.

{7} We granted certiorari to consider two issues raised by Plaintiffs. One of those issues, whether the district court improperly refused to allow Plaintiffs to amend their enforcement complaint by adding the Marshall law firm as a named plaintiff, is patently devoid of merit and needs no extended discussion. The record reflects that no such motion to amend was ever made, either prior to or after entry of judgment, and we therefore affirm the Court of Appeals on that issue. See id. ¶¶ 33–37. We now address Plaintiffs' other issue, whether an undisclosed principal has standing to enforce an IPRA request made by that principal's agent.

II. DISCUSSION

{8} When evaluating standing to sue under a statutory cause of action, we must look to the Legislature's intent as expressed in the Act or other relevant authority.” Key v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 1996–NMSC–038, 121 N.M. 764, 768, 918 P.2d 350, 354. Where the Legislature has granted specific persons a cause of action by statute, the statute governs who has standing to sue. ACLU of N.M. v. City of Albuquerque, 2008–NMSC–045, ¶ 9 n. 1, 144 N.M. 471, 188 P.3d 1222; see also Key, 121 N.M. at 768, 918 P.2d at 354 (explaining that there is no “significant difference between having standing to sue and having a cause of action”). Whether Plaintiffs have standing is a question of law that we review de novo. See ACLU of N.M., 2008–NMSC–045, ¶ 6, 144 N.M. 471, 188 P.3d 1222.

{9} To determine whether Plaintiffs have standing to enforce the records request made by the Marshall law firm, we must begin with the language of IPRA. See Key, 121 N.M. at 768–69, 918 P.2d at 354–55. “The entire statute is to be read as a whole so that each provision may be considered in its relation to every other part.” State ex rel. Newsome v. Alarid, 90 N.M. 790, 794, 568 P.2d 1236, 1240 (1977). We begin our discussion with an overview of the IPRA provisions relevant to our resolution of this case.

A. IPRA Was Enacted to Ensure Public Access to Public Documents.

{10} Under IPRA, [e]very person has a right to inspect” the public records of New Mexico. Section 14–2–1(A). IPRA defines “person” broadly to include “any individual, corporation, partnership, firm, association or entity.” Section 14–2–6(C). In order to facilitate the public's right to inspect records, each public body of New Mexico must have a designated custodian to receive and respond to records requests and provide opportunities for inspection. Section 14–2–7; see § 14–2–6(D) (defining “public body”). “Any person wishing to inspect public records may submit an oral or written request to the custodian.” Section 14–2–8(A). Written requests must describe the records that are sought and must include the name, address, and telephone number “of the person seeking access to the records,” but [n]o person requesting records shall be required to state the reason for inspecting the records.” Section 14–2–8(C).

{11} The records custodian “shall permit the inspection immediately or as soon as is practicable under the circumstances, but not later than fifteen days after receiving a written request.” Section 14–2–8(D). If the records are not available “within three business days, the custodian shall explain in writing when the records will be available for inspection or when the public body will respond to the request.” Id. Within fifteen days of receiving a written request, the custodian must either permit inspection of the records, provide a written explanation of why any request has been denied,1 or in the case of an excessively burdensome or broad request, inform the requester that additional time will be needed to respond. See §§ 14–2–10 to –11. If the custodian has not responded to a written request within fifteen days, the “person requesting the public records” may conclude that the request has been denied. Section 14–2–11(A).

{12} IPRA includes remedies to encourage compliance and facilitate enforcement. The attorney general and district attorneys are empowered to enforce IPRA, Section 14–2–12(A)(1), and the statute also provides that a “person whose written request has been denied” may bring an enforcement suit, Section 14–2–12(A)(2). By giving enforcement power to any...

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