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Tennessee Woman Award $71,343 in Attorney Fees in Public Records Suit

A Tennessee Appeals Court awarded $71,343 in attorney fees to a woman who brought suit to obtain public records.

Rebecca Little sought records about sewer and other improvements the city of Chattanooga annexed in 1972. The Hamilton County court found the city did not act in bad faith in its slowness in producing the public records requested, so it denied Little’s request for attorney fees after the city complied with her public records request.

The appeals court disagreed, holding the city “Knew it was obligated to produce and willfully did not.” At an August 4, 2011, hearing, the city provided boxes of records it said fulfilled Little’s request, but a few hours after the hearing it emailed. Additionally, an email from a city administrator stated he believed Little’s public records request was “Simple harassment of the staff.”

Upon remand, the Hamilton County Court found Little’s request for attorney fees was excessive, and it awarded a lower amount of $50,284. Little again appealed, and the appeals court found the trial court’s based its decision on a “Clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence.”

"Further, the purpose behind the fee-shifting provision in the Public Records Act is to 'recompense a party who has been required to expend time and money to enforce the public's right to access to public documents' and 'further the purpose of the Act, which is to ‘give the fullest possible public access to public records,” wrote the Appeals Court in awarding Little $71,343 in attorney fees.


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