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Friedmann v. Corrections Corporation of America, TN Appeals Court Ruling 2009

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IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF TENNESSEE
AT NASHVILLE
June 25, 2009 Session
ALEX FRIEDMANN v.
CORRECTIONS CORPORATION OF AMERICA
Appeal from the Chancery Court for Davidson County
No. 08-1105-I
Claudia C. Bonnyman, Chancellor

No. M2008-01998-COA-R3-CV - Filed August 5, 2009

This Public Records Act case was filed by Alex Friedmann (“Plaintiff”) against Corrections
Corporation of America (“CCA”). Plaintiff seeks various records from CCA. Plaintiff claims that
by operating prisons for Tennessee, CCA is the functional equivalent of a state agency and,
therefore, subject to the Public Records Act, Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-501 et seq. CCA maintains
that it is not the functional equivalent of a state agency, that the Public Records Act does not apply
to it, and even if it does, many of the records Plaintiff seeks are otherwise protected from disclosure.
Following a hearing, the Trial Court determined that CCA was operating as the functional equivalent
of a state agency and ordered production of most of the requested documents. CCA appeals. For
the reasons discussed below, we find that CCA is operating as the functional equivalent of a state
agency. However, we also find that any public records available to Plaintiff are limited to the
documents identified in Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-24-117, which is part of the Private Prison
Contracting Act of 1986. The judgment of the Trial Court is affirmed in part, reversed in part, and
this case is dismissed.

Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
Court Affirmed in Part and Reversed in Part; Case Remanded

D. MICHAEL SWINEY , J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which HERSCHEL P. FRANKS, P.J., and
JOHN W. MCCLARTY , J., joined.
Joseph F. Welborn, III, and Jason W. Callen, Nashville, Tennessee, for the Appellant, Corrections
Corporation of America.
Andrew C. Clarke, Memphis, Tennessee, for the Appellee, Alex Friedmann, individually and as
Associate Editor of Prison Legal News.

Richard L. Colbert, Franklin, Tennessee, for Amicus Curiae Tennessee Secondary School Athletic
Association.
Tricia Herzfeld, Nashville, Tennessee, for Amicus Curiae The American Civil Liberties Union of
Tennessee, The Associated Press, The Society of Professional Journalists, The Reporters Committee
for Freedom of the Press, The American Society of Newspaper Editors, and The Association of
Capitol Reporters and Editors.

OPINION
Background
Plaintiff is an associate editor of Prison Legal News, a publication which reports on
news related to the criminal justice system. CCA is a private correctional service company that owns
and operates numerous correctional facilities in nineteen states, including six facilities located in
Tennessee. In May 2008, Plaintiff filed a petition seeking access to various documents in the
possession of CCA. Plaintiff claimed these documents were public records pursuant to the Public
Records Act, that he had requested production of these documents, but CCA had refused his request.
According to the petition:
[CCA is] a company doing business in the [S]tate of Tennessee and
performing the traditionally and uniquely state governmental function
of operating a prison through contractual relationships with the State
of Tennessee. . . .
The Tennessee Public Records Act . . . applies to records
“made or received” by CCA in connection with the transaction of
official business by any “governmental agency,” which includes those
records in the hands of any private entity which operates as the
functional equivalent of a governmental agency.
At all times pertinent to the request, CCA operated prisons
and/or jails under contract with either the state or local governmental
agencies. Operating a prison is exclusively and traditionally a
governmental activity and public function. Therefore, at all times
material hereto, CCA was acting as the functional equivalent of a
governmental agency and bound by the terms of the Public Records
Act.
*

*

*

[U]ntil the Private Prison Contracting Act of 1986, [Tenn. Code Ann.
§ 41-24-101], neither the [S]tate nor a private prison contractor could
enter into a contract to provide correctional services at a prison in
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Tennessee. After passage of the Private Prison Contracting Act of
1986, the [S]tate could enter into contracts with private prison
contractors such as CCA. However, under the Private Prison
Contracting Act of 1986, the State has a statutory duty and obligation
to monitor, regulate, supervise and oversee the conduct and
performance of any and all private prison contractors such as CCA.
*

*

*

The Tennessee Public Records Act applies to CCA,
notwithstanding that CCA is a private, for-profit corporation, because
CCA operates as the functional equivalent of a governmental agency
as CCA houses prisoners and manages detention facilities for the
State of Tennessee. CCA performs a State function in return for
which the State of Tennessee provides CCA with governmental
funding. (original paragraph numbering omitted).
Plaintiff explained that before filing suit, he sent a public records request to CCA, but
that request was denied in its entirety by a letter sent by CCA’s attorney. Plaintiff sought entry of
an order granting his request for access to records and an award of reasonable attorney fees.
Plaintiff’s original request for documents was dated April 3, 2007. In that request,
Plaintiff sought the following documents:
1)
I am requesting the last complaint or amended complaint (or
written claim) in each and every lawsuit, claim and other legal action
filed against Corrections Corp. of America (CCA) and its subsidiary
companies, originating in the State of Tennessee, in which CCA paid
$500.00 (five hundred dollars) or more in damages, settlements
and/or attorney fees to the claimant, plaintiff or petitioner . . . from
January 1, 2002 through and including the date of this letter. This
request includes applicable claims or demands that were resolved
prior to suit being filed.
2)
I am requesting the verdict forms, releases, claim payment
forms and/or settlement agreements in which CCA paid damages
and/or attorney fees in each and every case specified in request
number 1, above. These documents should include the case or claim
number, identity of the parties, and the amount paid by CCA to
satisfy the judgment, settlement or claim. I am requesting all
such . . . [documents] from Jan. 1, 2002 through and including the
date of this letter. This request includes applicable claims or
demands that were resolved prior to suit being filed, and regardless
of whether CCA contends that any such settlements or payments are
or were confidential.
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3)
I am requesting all Tennessee state, county and municipal
government reports, audits, investigations or other similar documents
which found or alleged that CCA did not comply with one or more
terms of its contracts to provide correctional services (including
contracts to operate jails, prisons, immigration facilities, etc.) where
said reports, audits, etc. were issued from January 1, 2002, through
and including the date of this letter. Said reports, audits, etc. should
include the identity of the agency issuing the finding, a description of
the finding and any sanction(s) imposed for said contract violations.
4)
I am requesting all Tennessee court rulings issuing injunctive
relief or declaratory judgments against CCA, including sanctions and
contempt orders, between January 1, 2002 through and including the
date of this letter.
5)
I am requesting all spreadsheets, summaries or similar
databases showing all litigation concluded against CCA in Tennessee
which resulted in the payment of money damages, settlements,
sanctions, claims and/or attorney fees from January 1, 2002 through
and including the date of this letter regardless of whether CCA
contends that the payments of money damages are or were
confidential. Said documents should include the names of the parties,
name and location of the court, case/claim number, the amount paid,
and type of claim. All cases or claims involving prisoner property
damage or lost property should be excluded from these requested
records. (emphasis in the original).
6)
I am requesting all final executed contracts and contract
renewals between CCA, the State of Tennessee and/or any county or
municipality in Tennessee regarding the ownership, management or
operation of any jail, prison, holding facility, immigration facility,
etc. from January 1, 2002 through and including the date of this letter.
A few weeks after receiving Plaintiff’s initial request for documents, CCA sent
Plaintiff a response. Although the response is several pages long, in summary CCA claimed: (1)
it was not subject to the Public Records Act; (2) CCA was not the functional equivalent of a state
agency; (3) even if CCA was subject to the Public Records Act, many of the requested documents
nevertheless exceeded the scope of the Public Records Act because they were protected by the
attorney work product doctrine or sealed by order of a court; (4) many of the requested documents
were obtainable by Plaintiff either through the applicable court clerk’s office or the governmental
agency with which CCA had contracted; and (5) gathering all of the requested documents would be
overly burdensome.
After the petition was filed with the Trial Court, CCA filed a detailed response to the
petition and made the same assertions that were set forth in its letter responding to the initial request.
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CCA also filed the affidavit of Steve Groom (“Groom”), who has been employed by CCA since
2001 as its Vice President and Deputy General Counsel. According to Groom1:
CCA was formed approximately twenty-five years ago, in 1983.
CCA was not formed for the sole purpose of serving any Tennessee
government functions. CCA was not established by a governmental
entity or pursuant to any legislation. No law required CCA’s creation
or requires that it continue in existence. CCA was not created to
avoid the requirements of the Tennessee Public Records Act. CCA
is not managed or operated by the State of Tennessee or any of its
subdivisions or local governments.
Tennessee local and state agencies with whom CCA contracts have
no involvement in CCA’s corporate operations. CCA is operated at
the direction of its Board of Directors and Officers, none of whom is
a public official. Tennessee local and state officials have no veto
power or approval rights over CCA’s budgets.
CCA employees are not state employees. CCA employees do not
participate in government operated retirement plans by virtue of their
employment with CCA. CCA hires and establishes the terms and
conditions of employment for its employees.
CCA has contracts with multiple federal, state and local governments
throughout the United States for managing and/or operating
correctional facilities and detention centers. CCA controls the dayto-day operations of each of its correctional facilities or detention
centers that it owns, manages and/or operates pursuant to contracts
with numerous federal, state and local governments throughout the
United States. At the Tennessee facilities that CCA owns, manages
and/or operates, CCA employees provide recreational, health, and
food services to inmates, while also administering disciplinary rules
and procedures. CCA’s management team at each facility supervises
their employees’ performance.
CCA receives compensation for contractual services provided
pursuant to its contracts with federal, state, and local governments,
including contracts with the State of Tennessee and local
governments within the State. CCA does not receive direct public
funding, financing, or subsidies from the State of Tennessee or any

1

The original affidavit consists of many short, one-sentence paragraphs, some of which have been combined
when reproduced in this Opinion. We have omitted the portion of Groom’s affidavit which addresses CCA’s claim that
some of the requested information was protected by the attorney work product doctrine.

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local governments. The compensation that CCA receives from
Tennessee state and local governments totaled approximately 11.5%
of CCA’s overall revenue in 2007. The total percentage of Tennessee
local and state inmates held in CCA facilities amounts to
approximately 13.7%. . . .
Following a hearing, the Trial Court entered a detailed final order concluding that
CCA was subject to the Public Records Act. According to the Trial Court:
The Defendant Corrections Corporation of America (hereafter
CCA) contracted with the State of Tennessee to build and operate
some of its prisons. The Plaintiff made a written demand on CCA in
April of 2007, that CCA “produce” certain records because they are
public records. At a hearing in July 2008, this Court ruled from the
bench, that for purposes of the Tennessee Public Records Act, CCA
is operating as the functional equivalent of a state agency. The Court
also ruled that certain records requested by the Plaintiff are public
records. The Court now clarifies the bench ruling and amends to add
analysis of Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-24-117, which addresses some of
CCA’s records and also addresses some of the records requested by
the Plaintiff.
The Court interprets the terms of the Tennessee Public
Records Act broadly, to enforce the public interest in open access to
the records of state governmental entities. See Memphis Publ’g Co.
v. Cherokee Children & Family Servs., 87 S.W.3d 67 (Tenn. 2002).
The Act provides in pertinent part that “[A]ll state . . . records . . .
shall at all times, during business hours, be open for personal
inspection by any citizen of Tennessee . . . .” Tenn. Code Ann. § 107-503(a) (Supp. 2007) (now Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-503(a)(2)(A) as
amended by 2008 Tenn. Pub. Acts ch. 1179, section 1, effective July
1, 2008). Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-301(6) defines public record to
mean “[A]ll documents, papers, letters, maps, books, photographs,
microfilms, electronic data processing files and output, films, sound
recordings, or other material, regardless of physical form or
characteristics made or received pursuant to law or ordinance or in
connection with the transaction of official business by any
governmental agency.”
The Supreme Court of the State of Tennessee has interpreted
the Act such that the definition of public records also includes records
made and received in connection with the transaction of official
business in the hands of any private entity which is the functional
equivalent of a governmental agency:
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[T]he functional equivalency approach . . .
provides a superior means for applying public records
laws to private entities which perform “contracted
out” governmental services. . . . [P]rivate entities that
perform public services on behalf of a government
often do so as independent contractors. Nonetheless,
the public’s fundamental right to scrutinize the
performance of public services and the expenditure of
public funds should not be subverted by government
or by private entity merely because public duties have
been delegated to an independent contractor. When a
private entity’s relationship with the government is so
extensive that the entity serves as the functional
equivalent of a governmental agency, the
accountability created by public oversight should be
preserved.
Cherokee at 78-79.
“The cornerstone of this analysis . . . is whether and to what
extent the entity performs a governmental or public function, for we
intend by our holding to ensure that a governmental agency cannot,
intentionally or unintentionally, avoid its disclosure obligations under
the Act by contractually delegating its responsibilities to a private
entity.” Id. at 79. The Court must decide, considering certain nonexhaustive factors, whether the public/governmental nature of CCA’s
activities, outweighs its private character such that the records made
and received by CCA, in connection with the transaction of official
(i.e., state) business, are public records under the Act. No single
factor is dispositive. Allen v. Day, 213 S.W.3d 244 (Tenn. Ct. App.
2006). In this case, Tennessee has contracted out to CCA, functions
which are historically those allocated to the people of the State
pursuant to the Tennessee Constitution. Article I, Section 32 of the
Tennessee Constitution 1870 states “[T]hat the erection of safe and
comfortable prisons, the inspection of prisons, and the humane
treatment of prisoners, shall be provided for.” This section was
amended in 1998 to remove the term comfortable.
In deciding that CCA is operating as the functional equivalent
of a governmental agency, the Court [finds] that CCA performs the
traditional governmental or public functions described in the
Tennessee Constitution since 1870, and that these public functions
outweigh its private identity for purposes of the Public Records Act.

-7-

The Court focuses upon the history of the State’s obligation
to operate prisons. In 1985, the Attorney General opined that “. . . the
State must retain custody and control over its prisoners. This is
because the State may not delegate or contract away its police powers
or obligations imposed upon the State by the Constitution.” Op.
Tenn. Att’y Gen. No. 85-286 [Nov. 27, 1985)]. The opinion further
states “. . . detention has traditionally been considered an exclusive
prerogative of the state . . . . The power of governing is a trust
committed by the people to the government. . . . Such a trust cannot
be granted away.” Id. at 5-6. . . .
After discussing the non-exclusive factors listed in Cherokee, the Trial Court
concluded that CCA was operating as the functional equivalent of a state agency and, therefore, was
subject to the provisions of the Public Records Act. The Trial Court then discussed the 6 specific
requests made by Plaintiff as quoted previously in this Opinion. The Trial Court ordered that the
documents sought in requests numbered 1 through 4 and 6 be made available for inspection and
copying except: (1) any settlements that were sealed by a court; and (2) any court orders responsive
to the 4th request which the originating court placed under seal. As to the spreadsheets, etc., sought
in the 5th request, the Trial Court concluded that Plaintiff was entitled to a summary or spreadsheet
“showing all litigation concluded against CCA in Tennessee, which resulted in payment of money
damages or settlements or sanctions or claims or attorney’s fees from January 1, 2002 through and
including the date of the letter.”
As to Plaintiff’s request for attorney fees, that request was denied. The Trial Court
concluded that it was reasonable for CCA to refuse inspection of its records since CCA was a private
entity. The Trial Court added that the “Public Records Act does not authorize a recovery of attorney
fees if the withholding governmental entity acts with a good faith belief that its records are exempted
from disclosure.” The Trial Court specifically found that CCA was acting in good faith and,
therefore, an attorney fee award was not proper.
CCA appeals raising several issues. First, CCA argues that the Trial Court erred
when it concluded that CCA was operating as the functional equivalent of a state agency. Second,
CCA claims that the Trial Court erred by not finding that the Private Prison Contracting Act
controlled which documents must be made public. Finally, CCA claims the Trial Court erred when
it ordered production of certain documents because production of those documents violated the work
product doctrine or because the documents were unrelated to CCA’s contracts with the State of
Tennessee or a subsidiary of the State. Plaintiff asserts that the Trial Court’s rulings on the above
issues were correct. The only issue raised by Plaintiff is his claim that the Trial Court erred when
it refused to award him attorney fees incurred in prosecuting this case.2
2

An Amicus Curiae brief was filed by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (“TSSAA”).
TSSAA requests this Court reverse the Trial Court’s finding that CCA was subject to the Public Records Act. An
Amicus Curiae brief also was filed collectively by The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, The Associated
Press, The Society of Professional Journalists, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, The American
(continued...)

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Discussion
The standard of review in this Public Records Act case is set forth in Memphis Publ’g
Co. v. Cherokee Children & Family Servs.,87 S.W.3d 67 (Tenn. 2002) and involves a question of
law: “Our determination whether the Tennessee Public records Act applies to the records in . . . [the
defendant’s] possession is a question of law.” Id. at 74. With respect to legal issues, our review is
conducted “under a pure de novo standard of review, according no deference to the conclusions of
law made by the lower courts.” Southern Constructors, Inc. v. Loudon County Bd. of Educ., 58
S.W.3d 706, 710 (Tenn. 2001).
The first issue we address is whether the Trial Court erred when it found that CCA
was operating as the functional equivalent of a state agency. In Cherokee, our Supreme Court
discussed the various approaches taken by other jurisdictions when deciding whether records in the
possession of private entities performing public functions should be considered public records. After
so doing, the Court concluded:
Our review of authority from other jurisdictions persuades us
that the functional equivalency approach . . . provides a superior
means for applying public records laws to private entities which
perform “contracted out” governmental services. As the facts of
these cases demonstrate, private entities that perform public services
on behalf of a government often do so as independent contractors.
Nonetheless, the public’s fundamental right to scrutinize the
performance of public services and the expenditure of public funds
should not be subverted by government or by private entity merely
because public duties have been delegated to an independent
contractor. When a private entity’s relationship with the government
is so extensive that the entity serves as the functional equivalent of a
governmental agency, the accountability created by public oversight
should be preserved.
Consequently, in light of our duty to construe the Tennessee
Public Records Act liberally in favor of “the fullest possible public
access to public records,” we follow the Connecticut Supreme Court
and interpret records “made or received . . . in connection with the
transaction of official business by any governmental agency” to
include those records in the hands of any private entity which
operates as the functional equivalent of a governmental agency. In
making this determination, we look to the totality of the
circumstances in each given case, and no single factor will be

2

(...continued)
Society of Newspaper Editors, and The Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors. These entities request this Court
affirm the judgment of the Trial Court except as to its refusal to award Plaintiff attorney fees.

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dispositive. The cornerstone of this analysis, of course, is whether
and to what extent the entity performs a governmental or public
function, for we intend by our holding to ensure that a governmental
agency cannot, intentionally or unintentionally, avoid its disclosure
obligations under the Act by contractually delegating its
responsibilities to a private entity. Beyond this consideration,
additional factors relevant to the analysis include, but are not limited
to, (1) the level of government funding of the entity; (2) the extent of
government involvement with, regulation of, or control over the
entity; and (3) whether the entity was created by an act of the
legislature or previously determined by law to be open to public
access.
We caution that our holding clearly is not intended to allow
public access to the records of every private entity which provides
any specific, contracted-for services to governmental agencies. A
private business does not open its records to public scrutiny merely
by doing business with, or performing services on behalf of, state or
municipal government. But when an entity assumes responsibility for
providing public functions to such an extent that it becomes the
functional equivalent of a governmental agency, the Tennessee Public
Records Act guarantees that the entity is held accountable to the
public for its performance of those functions.
Cherokee, 87 S.W.3d at 78-79.
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. As noted by the Trial Court, the
Tennessee Constitution requires the State to provide for its prisoners. See Tenn. Const. art. 1, § 32
(“That the erection of safe prisons, the inspection of prisons, and the humane treatment of prisoners,
shall be provided for.”). This Constitutional requirement was not eliminated with the passage of the
Private Prison Contracting Act of 1986. While this Act does allow the State to contract out certain
correctional services, the statute does not change the fact that the State ultimately is responsible for
providing these services. In other words, the State still must provide the constitutionally required
services; it just does so, in part, through its contracts with CCA. In addition, the State monitors CCA
to ensure that its contractual obligations are fulfilled,3 and the State retains its authority over the

3

Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-24-109 (2006) provides as follows:
Monitoring of contractor performance – Reports. – In addition to other powers
and duties prescribed by law, the commissioner shall monitor any contracts with
prison contractors providing correctional services and shall report at least annually,
or as requested, to the select oversight committee on corrections or any other
legislative committee regarding the performance of the contractor. The comptroller
(continued...)

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inmates’ sentences and other aspects of their incarceration. Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-24-110 provides
that:
Powers and duties not delegable to contractor. – No contract for
correctional services shall authorize, allow or imply a delegation of
the authority or responsibility of the commissioner to a prison
contractor for any of the following:
(1) Developing and implementing procedures for calculating
inmate release and parole eligibility dates;
(2) Developing and implementing procedures for calculating
and awarding sentence credits;
(3) Approving inmates for furlough and work release;
(4) Approving the type of work inmates may perform, and the
wages or sentence credits which may be given to inmates engaging
in that work; and
(5) Granting, denying or revoking sentence credits; placing
an inmate under less restrictive custody or more restrictive custody;
or taking any disciplinary actions.
Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-24-110 (2006).
As to funding, Grooms’ affidavit provides that in 2007, contracts with Tennessee state
and local governments comprised only 11.5% of its overall revenue. However, the affidavit is silent
as to how much of CCA’s total revenue generated in Tennessee comes from its contracts with the
State and local governments. That percentage likely is quite high, and CCA never argues otherwise.
In short, we conclude, without difficulty, that the Trial Court correctly determined
that CCA is the functional equivalent of a state agency pursuant to the analysis set forth in Cherokee,
supra. The providing of prisons is a responsibility that the State cannot delegate away to a private
entity. While the State can contract with private entities such as CCA to operate prisons consistent
with the provisions of the Private Prisons Contracting Act of 1986, the ultimate responsibility to
provide for its prisoners belongs to the State of Tennessee. See W.J. Michael Cody and Andy D.
3

(...continued)
of the treasury shall audit the performance of the department of correction and the
private contractor to ensure that the state is receiving the quality and level of
services as described in the contract based upon the performance criteria, the
monitoring process, and any applicable sanctions that might be incurred. The
comptroller shall report annually or as requested to the select oversight committee
on corrections.

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Bennett4, The Privatization of Correctional Institutions: The Tennessee Experience, 40 Vand. L.
Rev. 829 (1987):
[Operating correctional facilities] is not an area analogous to
providing hospitals or fire protection. Operating correctional
facilities is more than a traditional state function: the state has no
higher duty than to ensure that those persons who violate society’s
laws are punished. Fulfilling that duty is essential to the integrity of
the government and to the protection of the public. It is not a duty
that can legally or morally be handed to a private party and then
ignored. The involvement of private parties in the corrections process
may produce benefits, but it must be limited to its proper scope under
state control.
Id., at 849; see also Allen v. Day, 213 S.W.3d 244, 263 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2006) (Cottrell, J.,
concurring)(Explaining that incarceration is a prime example of one of the activities “traditionally
performed by state and local governments in fulfilling their roles.”); Op. Tenn. Att’y Gen. No. 85286 (Nov. 27, 1985) ([D]etention has traditionally been considered an exclusive prerogative of the
state . . . .”).
The next issue is CCA’s claim that the General Assembly has exempted it from the
coverage of the Public Records Act. The Public Records Act expresses the General Assembly’s
intent generally to make state, county, and municipal records open to the public “unless otherwise
provided by state law.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-503(a)(2)(A). In Cater v. Bell, 279 S.W.3d 560
(Tenn. 2009), the Supreme Court set forth principles to utilize when interpreting a statute:
The most basic principle of statutory construction is to ascertain and
give effect to legislative intent without broadening the statute beyond
its intended scope. State v. Sherman, 266 S.W.3d 395, 401 (Tenn.
2008). When statutory language is clear and unambiguous, we must
apply its plain meaning in its normal and accepted use, without a
forced interpretation that would extend the meaning of the language
and, in that instance, we enforce the language without reference to the
broader statutory intent, legislative history, or other sources.
Overstreet v. TRW Commercial Steering Div., 256 S.W.3d 626, 630
(Tenn. 2008). Statutes relating to the same subject or having a
common purpose should be construed together. Lawrence County
Educ. Ass’n v. Lawrence County Bd. of Educ., 244 S.W.3d 302, 309
(Tenn. 2007). We must presume that the General Assembly is aware

4

At the time this article was written in 1987, Andy D. Bennett was the Deputy Attorney General for the
Legislative Affairs and Reporter Division of the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office. He was appointed to the Middle
Section of the Tennessee Court of Appeals in September 2007.

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of prior enactments and of decisions of the courts when enacting
legislation. Ki v. State, 78 S.W.3d 876, 879 (Tenn. 2002).
Carter, 279 S.W.3d at 564.
In addition to the principles set forth in Carter, we also avoid statutory interpretations
that would render part of a statute meaningless. For example, in In re Estate of Nelson, No. W200600030-COA-R3-CV, 2007 WL 851265 (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 22, 2007), no appl. perm. appeal filed,
we stated:
Adhering to general principles of statutory construction, we read
statutory language according to its plain meaning, and if it is
unambiguous, we cannot force an interpretation that would alter the
statute’s application. See Eastman Chem. Co. v. Johnson, 151
S.W.3d 503, 507 (Tenn. 2004). Where an ambiguity exists, we seek
to ascertain the legislature’s intent and purpose by looking to the
entire statutory scheme and by considering the purpose for which the
language was selected. See id. In interpreting the provisions of
Tennessee Code Annotated Section 45-2-703, as with any other
portions of the same statute, this Court reads the provisions in pari
materia and presumes that the legislature intended for each word in
the statute to have meaning. Faust v. Metro. Gov’t of Nashville, 206
S.W.3d 475, 489-90 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2006). Thus, we endeavor to
effectuate the intent of the legislature by avoiding an interpretation
that would render the statute’s language meaningless, redundant, or
superfluous. Eastman Chem. Co., 151 S.W.3d at 507; Faust, 206
S.W.3d at 489 (quoting Tidwell v. Collins, 522 S.W.2d 674, 676-77
(Tenn. 1975)); McGee v. Best, 106 S.W.3d 48, 64 (Tenn. Ct. App.
2002) (“The Court has a duty to construe a statute so that no part will
be inoperative, superfluous, void or insignificant. The Court must
give effect to every word, phrase, clause, and sentence of the Act in
order to achieve the Legislature’s intent, and it must construe a statute
so that no section will destroy another.” (citations omitted)).
Estate of Nelson, 2007 WL 851265, at *10. See also Culbreath v. First Tenn. Bank Nat’l Ass’n, 44
S.W.3d 518, 524 (Tenn. 2001) (“[W]e must interpret the statute ‘as a whole, giving effect to each
word and making every effort not to interpret a provision in a manner that renders other provisions
of the same statute inconsistent, meaningless or superfluous.’”) (quoting Cafarelli v. Yancy, 226 F.3d
492, 499 (6th Cir. 2000)).
The statute relied on by CCA as to this issue is Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-24-117 (2006),
which is part of the Private Prison Contracting Act of 1986. This statute provides:
Records relating to inmates in private facilities. – The records and
other documents concerning any inmate who is sentenced to the
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custody of the department of correction and is being housed in a
prison or facility operated by a private prison contractor shall be
public records to the same extent such records are public if an inmate
is being housed in a department of correction facility.
CCA argues that this statute expresses the General Assembly’s intent to make
available through a private prison contractor only those inmate documents that would otherwise be
available through the Public Records Act if the prison were being operated by the State, and all other
records of the private prison contractor not so identified are not public records. Plaintiff, on the other
hand, argues that all of the records he requested are otherwise available under the Public Records
Act and that Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-24-117 does nothing to change this result.
We agree with the interpretation placed on the statute by CCA. We conclude that
Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-24-117 is intended to state exactly which documents in the hands of a private
prison contractor are to be made available to the public. Any documents not so identified are not
to be considered public records in the possession of a private prison contractor, such as CCA. To
hold otherwise (i.e., by holding that documents not covered by this statute still must be made
available pursuant to the Public Records Act) would result in Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-24-117 having
no purpose whatsoever other than to merely restate the result to be reached under the Public Records
Act. This would render Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-24-117 both meaningless and superfluous, a result
we are to avoid if possible.
As stated previously, the Public Records Act expresses the General Assembly’s intent
generally to make state, county, and municipal records open to the public “unless otherwise provided
by state law.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-503(a)(2)(A). Thus, the General Assembly has reserved to
itself the right to exempt documents from the coverage of the Public Records Act. We hold that in
order to give Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-24-117 any meaning, that statute must be interpreted as
expressing the General Assembly’s intent to limit the records that are to be considered “public
records” in the hands of a private prison contractor. This is the General Assembly’s prerogative.
If, in our attempt to give meaning to Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-24-117 as we must, we have
misinterpreted the General Assembly’s intent, it is, of course, free to amend the statute to more
clearly set forth its intent in passing the applicable statute.
Finally, we note that our holding affects only the documents in the possession of
CCA. Our holding does not affect whether the State or local governments contracting with CCA
must supply these documents in their possession, if so requested. Likewise, our holding is not
intended to affect whether Plaintiff can obtain certain of the documents he seeks from the various
clerks of the courts. Because many of these records are available to Plaintiff from other
governmental sources, the “accountability created by public oversight . . . [will] be preserved”, and
the governmental entities contracting with CCA will not be able to avoid their disclosure obligations
based on the contents of this Opinion. See Cherokee, 87 S.W.3d at 79.
In light of our holding that a private prison contractor is required to furnish only those
documents described in Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-24-117, all remaining issues, including whether the
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Trial Court erred when it failed to award Plaintiff attorney fees, are pretermitted, and this case is
dismissed.5
Conclusion
The judgment of the Trial Court is affirmed in part, reversed in part, and this case is
dismissed. This case is remanded to the Chancery Court for Davidson County solely for the
collection of costs below. Costs on appeal are taxed to the Appellee, Alex Friedmann, for which
execution may issue, if necessary.

__________________________________
D. MICHAEL SWINEY, JUDGE

5

To the extent that any of the records sought by Plaintiff are covered by Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-24-117, Tenn.
Comp. R. & Regs. 0420-01-02-.04 sets forth the procedure for obtaining these records, which include directing the
request to the Public Information Officer of the Department of Correction, as opposed to CCA.

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