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Tennessee DA Ordered to Produce Requested Documents to Prisoner Absent Statutory Exemption

Tennessee state prisoner Raymond Rutter appealed the 2003 dismissal of his action to compel District Attorney H. Greeley Wells, Jr. (DA), to produce documents he had requested pursuant to the state’s Public Records Act, Tenn. Code Ann. § 10 7 503(a). The dismissal was reversed and remanded to determine whether the DA's refusal to produce the documents had any merit based on claims of confidentiality or privilege.

Rutter requested "the complete case file" for five cases in which he was the defendant. The DA claimed the request fell short of statutory requirements. Rutter petitioned the court, and the DA filed a motion to dismiss claiming "Tennessee law does not require an official to copy records and deliver them to a requesting citizen."

The Sullivan County Chancery Court held that Rutter had a right to make the public records request but ordered that he amend the request for specificity. Once amended, the DA again moved for dismissal, claiming that Rutter had not complied with the order because a search was required to determine discloseable documents to produce. The court granted the motion to dismiss and Rutter appealed.

The Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Knoxville reversed and remanded, holding that the requested documents were "very precisely described" and that the chancery court had erred in ordering an amended records request. The appellate court found that the only search necessary was due to the DA's responsibility to determine which documents were exempt from disclosure and why. See: Rutter v. Wells, (Tenn. Ct. App. 2004); 2004 WL 2159023.

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Related legal case

Rutter v. Wells