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TN Chancery Court Must Award Reasonable, Rather Than All, Costs and Fees to Winner in Public Records Act Cases

The Pollow family settled a civil rights action against police in Memphis, Tennessee after officers killed Adam Pollow while "restraining" him. The Settlement Agreement (Agreement) netted the Pollows $475,000. Contemporary Media, Inc. (CMI) requested from the city a copy of the agreement under the state Public Records Act (Act). Because of confusion over a clause binding the Pollows from disclosing facts about the agreement, the city didn't know whether it too was so bound, and CMI's request was denied. CMI successfully sued for disclosure under the Act in state Chancery Court and moved for $27,939.08 in costs and fees. The Chancellor awarded only $12,033.25, and CMI appealed.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals of Tennessee found that the Act required the Chancellor to award reasonable costs and fees to the prevailing party in cases arising thereunder. Since the city denied CMI's records request because of valid confusion as to the Agreement's disclosability, it didn't act in bad faith. The Court therefore affirmed the Chancellor's award of only partial costs and fees. See: Contemporary Media Inc. v. City of Memphis, Tenn. Court of Appeals, 1999 WL 292264).

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Related legal case

Contemporary Media Inc. v. City of Memphis