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Holladay v. Glass

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Divisions I, II

November 8, 2017



          Monty V. Baugh, PLC, by: Monty Vaughan Baugh, for appellants.

          Morris W. Thompson Law Firm, P.A., by: Morris W. Thompson, for appellee.

          BRANDON J. HARRISON, Judge.

         Sheriff Doc Holladay and Sergeant Lesa Warner (collectively Holladay) appeal the Pulaski County Circuit Court's order that (1) found that a prison transport manifest did not fall within the scope of the "undisclosed investigation" exception to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and (2) awarded attorney's fees and costs to Bessie Glass. We find no error and affirm.

         On 7 December 2015, Johnnie Lee Phillips attempted to escape while being transported with other inmates and pretrial detainees from the Pulaski County Courthouse to the Pulaski County Regional Detention Facility. On December 10, Glass, who is Phillips's aunt, requested a copy of the "trip sheet, " or transportation manifest, which is a list of the passengers who were on the transport vehicle when the escape attempt occurred. Six days later, on December 16, Glass was denied a copy of the manifest; Sergeant Lesa Warner explained via email that it was exempt pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. § 25-19-1105(b)(6) (Repl. 2014) (exemption that excludes "undisclosed investigations by law enforcement agencies of suspected criminal activities" from the FOIA).

         On 29 December 2015, Glass filed a complaint against Pulaski County, Pulaski County Sheriff Doc Holladay, and Lesa Warner.[1] Glass alleged a violation of the FOIA and requested that Holladay be ordered to provide the manifest. She also requested attorney's fees and other litigation expenses. Holladay responded with a motion to dismiss, arguing that the complaint failed to state facts upon which relief could be granted. Holladay also asserted that the manifest had been provided to Glass on 4 January 2016, so the issue was now moot.

         In an order filed on 22 April 2016, the circuit court denied Holladay's motion to dismiss. First, the circuit court found that the case fell within an exception to the mootness doctrine because it presented an issue capable of repetition yet evading review. The court also found that the manifest was not subject to the "undisclosed investigations" exception, citing Hengel v. Pine Bluff, 307 Ark. 457, 821 S.W.2d 761 (1991). In Hengel, our supreme court held that jail logs, arrest records, and shift sheets were not sufficiently investigatory in nature to fit within the exception to public disclosure. The opinion indicated that subsection (b)(6) is meant to exempt only "internal 'work product' materials containing details of an investigation." 307 Ark. at 461, 821 S.W.2d at 763 (quoting J. Watkins, The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act 72 (1988)).

         In the present case, the circuit court found that the manifest was "simply a log, a list of names, dates, locations, and times. The nature of the manifest is clearly non-investigative; it is not internal work product material, and does not contain details of any investigation." Holladay filed a motion for reconsideration, objecting to the court effectively entering a judgment on the pleadings and requesting the opportunity to file an answer to the complaint and present witnesses at a hearing. Glass petitioned for attorney's fees and costs in the amount of $12, 151.50. The circuit court entered an order denying that its previous order had been a judgment on the pleadings. The court denied the motion for reconsideration and directed that a final hearing be set to address the merits of the case and appropriate attorney's fees, if any.

         Holladay filed an answer to the complaint on 7 July 2016. Glass moved to strike the answer, arguing that it was filed too late after the denial of the motion to dismiss. Holladay responded and denied that the answer was untimely; Holladay also moved for summary judgment based on essentially the same arguments made in the motion to dismiss.

         The circuit court convened a hearing on 21 October 2016. At the onset, the court announced that it was denying the motion to strike and the motion for summary judgment. The court reiterated its earlier finding that the manifest was not subject to the "undisclosed investigations" exception and that Hengel was controlling. Holladay acknowledged that on "most routine days" the manifest would be subject to disclosure under the FOIA but argued that in this case "the trip sheet contains an exclusive list of all individuals who are witnesses to the escape and/or suspects in the assistance of the escape." Holladay asserted that the list was being used in an investigation of possible accomplices and was therefore investigatory in nature. The court disagreed and stated, "[I]f Hengel is to have any weight at all, it has to be controlling on the issue of whether or not a jail log, arrest record[, ] and shift sheet are investigatory in nature."

The court concluded,
[T]he question for this case is whether or not the trip sheet was an undisclosed investigation. Plainly, it was a public record. . . . [T]here was an investigation and you could put the trip sheet in the investigation, but putting the trip sheet in the investigation does not transform the nature of the trip sheet.
. . . .
There happened to be an escape. The fact that there was an escape does not define the nature of the information of who was on the vehicle and that's all the trip ...

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