Monday, June 1, 2020
Court of Appeal:
Los Angeles Superior Court May Not Transfer CPRA Case
Edmon Says Statute Requiring That Action to Obtain Public Records Be Heard in County Where Records Are Situated Does Not Transfer to Sacramento Though the Records Are on Server There
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Los Angeles Superior Court has jurisdiction over a writ action seeking to compel the production of electronic records by the state Department of Justice, the Court of Appeal for this district held Friday, spurning the contention of the Office of Attorney General that the matter must be heard in Sacramento because the records are stored on servers there.
A writ of mandate was issued that not merely permits, but requires, the Superior Court for this county to decide the case, brought by the California Gun Rights Foundation—commonly known as “Calguns”—under the California Public Records Act (“CPRA”). In arguing that the case must be shifted to the Sacramento Superior Court, the state relied on Government Code §6258, a portion of the CPRA, which says:
“Whenever it is made to appear by verified petition to the superior court of the county where the records or some part thereof are situated that certain public records are being improperly withheld from a member of the public, the court shall order the officer or person charged with withholding the records to disclose the public record or show cause why the officer or person should not do so.”
That, the Office of Attorney General contended, means that jurisdiction in Calguns’s action is exclusively in Sacramento—where Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mel Red Recana ordered that it be transferred.
Disagreeing, Presiding Justice Lee Edmon of Div. Three declared:
“We conclude that section 6259 governs venue, not jurisdiction, and thus it does not deprive a superior court of subject matter jurisdiction over a public records dispute even if the requested records are not situated in the county where the lawsuit is brought. Accordingly, although the records sought in this case are not situated in Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles Superior Court nonetheless has jurisdiction over this action.”
“On its face, the CPRA contains no clear indication of a legislative intent to limit the fundamental jurisdiction of the superior courts. To the contrary, section 6258 states that a proceeding to enforce the right to inspect or receive a copy of a public record may be adjudicated ‘in any court of competent jurisdiction.’ ”
Edmon added the italics.
The presiding justice said although §6259 prescribes trial in “the superior court of the county where the records or some part thereof are situated,” this does not indicate an intent “to limit or withdraw the courts’ power to adjudicate disputes under the CPRA.”
She went on to say that “in the absence of another applicable statutory provision, venue in the present case would be proper only in Sacramento County, where the records the Foundation is seeking are located,” and then pointed to such a statutory provision: Code of Civil Procedure §401, which says:
“Whenever it is provided by any law of this State that an action or proceeding against the State or a department, institution, board, commission, bureau, officer or other agency thereof shall or may be commenced in, tried in, or removed to the County of Sacramento, the same may be commenced and tried in any city or city and county of this State in which the Attorney General has an office.”
The Office of Attorney General has an office in the City of Los Angeles.
Edmon found “no basis for concluding that section 6259 impliedly repealed C.C.P. section 401” and said that section and §6259 “may be rationally harmonized,” setting forth:
“Pursuant to section 6259, a litigant ordinarily would bring suit to enforce a public records request in the county where the records are situated. Under C.C.P. section 401, if the records are situated in Sacramento, a litigant may sue in Sacramento or in any other ‘city or city and county of this State” where the Attorney General maintains an office.’ ”
The Office of Attorney General argued that if venue is proper in Los Angeles Superior Court, Recana still had discretion, under Code of Civil Procedure §397, to ship the case to Sacramento. That section authorizes a transfer for “the convenience of witnesses” and where “the ends of justice would be promoted by the change.”
Edmon agreed that Recana had such discretion—but said he ordered the transfer not pursuant to such discretion but because he was persuaded that the case had to be tried in Sacramento Superior Court.
However, the opinion does not leave room for an exercise of discretion, under §397, on remand. A writ of mandate was issued which directs the Los Angeles Superior Court “to vacate its order granting the State’s motion to transfer the action to Sacramento County, and to enter a new and different order denying the motion.”
The case is The California Gun Rights Foundation v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County, B299798.
On Dec. 11, the case was argued and submitted, which gave Div. Three 90 days (under Art. VI, §19 of the state Constitution) within which to render a decision. On March 3, however, it ordered the submission vacated “for the reason that, due to the press of other court business and the complexity of the issued in this case, additional time is needed to complete and file the opinion in the matter.”
In its writ petition, Calguns seeks records relating to concealed records permits. It alleges that some information is being wrongfully withheld and other information is available only upon payment of an amount exceeding the actual duplication costs.
A decision by the California Supreme Court on Thursday restricts extra charges on supplying electronic records.
That case will “impact” Calgun’s effort, its attorney, Paul Nicholas Boylan of Davis, said Friday.
What’s “very important,” however, is that the Court of Appeal’s decision will promote citizens’ access to public records by being able to sue in courthouses more convenient to them than that in Sacramento, he said.
Friday’s decision—which he hailed as “incredibly well reasoned”—settles an issue as to which there had been lingering uncertainty, Boylan remarked.
Copyright 2020, Metropolitan News Company