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NC Citizens for Transparent Government, Inc. v. The Village of Pinehurst

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  1. Freedom of Information

Court: North Carolina Court of Appeals

Date Filed: May 17, 2024

Background: In October 2021, a majority of the Village of Pinehurst City Council discussed the censure of two councilmembers and reached a consensus on the decision over email. The censure was later announced at a public city council meeting.  

NC Citizens for Transparent Government, represented by the First Amendment Clinic at Duke Law, sued Pinehurst, arguing that the email exchange violated North Carolina’s Open Meetings Law because it excluded the public from the deliberation process. The North Carolina Superior Court granted Pinehurst’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, finding that email cannot be considered an open meeting under the law and that the exchange wasn’t a violation of the OML. 

NC Citizens for Transparent Government appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. 

Our Position: The Court of Appeals should find that emails can constitute official meetings under the OML and reverse the Superior Court’s decision.

  • The OML guarantees real-time public access to official meetings of public bodies and email cannot be used to evade its requirements.
  • Courts in other jurisdictions have found that email exchanges may constitute meetings.
  • Real-time public access to official meetings allows the press to report on time-sensitive government matters.

Quote: “Journalists in North Carolina rely on access to public meetings to inform the public about the activities of government. The lower court’s reading of the OML, if affirmed, would hamper reporting on matters of public concern and incentivize public bodies to transact public business via email to avoid public scrutiny.”

Related: In 2020, a media coalition represented by a Reporters Committee attorney sued the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance after it secretly voted by email to significantly reduce fines levied against a state lawmaker. A judge later ruled in favor of the media coalition, concluding that the agency violated the state’s Open Meetings Act.

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