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Tenn. court again orders CCA to produce public records in PLN suit

Prison Legal News, Jan. 1, 2011.
Press release - Tenn. court again orders CCA to produce public records in PLN suit 2011

PRESS RELEASE

Prison Legal News – For Immediate Release

December 2, 2011

Court Again Orders Corrections Corporation of America to Produce Records in Public Records Act Case

Nashville, TN – On Thursday, Chancellor Claudia C. Bonnyman of the Chancery Court of Davidson County issued a decision directing Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest private prison firm, to produce records in a long-standing public records lawsuit filed against the company.

The suit was brought by Alex Friedmann, associate editor of Prison Legal News (PLN), a non-profit monthly publication that reports on criminal justice-related issues. In 2007, CCA denied Friedmann’s request for records related to litigation filed against CCA and for reports or audits that found contract violations by the company, among other documents. The Chancery Court ruled in Friedmann’s favor in July 2008, finding that CCA was the "functional equivalent" of
a state agency and ordering CCA to produce the requested records.

On appeal, the Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s finding that CCA was the functional equivalent of a government agency, noting, "With all due respect to CCA, this Court is at a loss as to how operating a prison could be considered anything less than a governmental function." The Court of Appeals remanded the case to the Chancery Court in 2009 to determine whether some of the requested records fell within the definition of the public records act and did not constitute attorney work product, which would make them exempt from disclosure. CCA’s appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court was rejected.

Following remand, CCA produced a number of the requested records, including hundreds of pages from reports and audits in which CCA had been found in violation of or non-compliance with its contractual obligations to operate prisons and jails. However, CCA refused to produce copies of settlement agreements, verdicts or releases in cases where the company had paid damages or other monetary amounts to resolve lawsuits or claims; CCA also refused to release spreadsheets, database printouts or similar documents listing such cases.

At a November 30 hearing, Chancellor Bonnyman heard testimony from CCA general counsel Steve Groom and arguments from attorneys on both sides related to the records the company had refused to produce pursuant to Friedmann’s original public records request.

On December 1, Chancellor Bonnyman ruled against CCA, holding that the company, as the functional equivalent of a government agency, could not keep secret its settlement or verdict documents, nor its spreadsheets or database printouts listing resolved litigation against the firm. Such documents would be available under the public records act if requested from government agencies, which generally are not allowed to enter into confidential settlements.

"CCA is funded almost entirely by public, taxpayer money through government contracts," said Friedmann. "The court’s ruling properly ensures that CCA is held accountable to the public to the same extent as government agencies, since CCA is performing a governmental function."

Chancellor Bonnyman exempted from disclosure settlement documents that were sealed by order of a state or federal court. Further, CCA will first submit the spreadsheets and database printouts to the Chancery Court under seal for an in camera review.

"CCA has fought tooth-and-nail against disclosing these records for more than four years," Friedmann stated. "This would not have occurred with a government agency, and evidences a significant problem with prison privatization: private prison companies like CCA prefer to operate in secret, with little transparency, and are not accountable to the public."

"If CCA has nothing to hide, then they should have no problem producing documents that government agencies would have to produce," Friedmann added. "Instead, CCA has indicated it will again appeal the court’s ruling, thereby removing all doubt that it prefers corporate secrecy over public disclosure, even though the company performs a governmental function and is paid with taxpayer funds."

The case is Friedmann v. CCA, Chancery Court of Davidson County (TN), Case No. 08-1105-I. PLN was ably represented in the hearing by Memphis attorney Andrew Clarke.

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Prison Legal News (PLN) is a project of the Human Rights Defense Center. HRDC, founded in 1990 and based in Brattleboro, Vermont, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. detention facilities. HRDC publishes PLN, a monthly magazine that includes reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners’ rights and criminal justice issues. PLN has almost 7,000 subscribers nationwide and operates a website (www.prisonlegalnews.org) that includes a comprehensive database of prison and jail-related articles, news reports, court rulings, verdicts, settlements and related documents.

For further information, please contact:

Alex Friedmann, Associate Editor
Prison Legal News
5331 Mt. View Road #130
Antioch, TN 37013
(615) 495-6568
afriedmann@prisonlegalnews.org

Andrew C. Clarke
6250 Poplar Avenue
Second Floor
Memphis, Tennessee 38119
(901) 590-0761 (office)
(901) 590-0779 (fax)
(901) 351-5446 (cell)
aclarke@accfirm.com


 


 

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