Court: U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
Date Filed: June 25, 2021
Updates: On May 17, 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that in passing PROMESA, Congress abrogated sovereign immunity for the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico in federal court as to certain types of relief, which should allow CPI’s case to proceed. On July 20, 2022, the Board asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. On Oct. 3, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. On Dec. 23, 2022, the Reporters Committee and 20 media organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to affirm the First Circuit’s ruling.
Background: In 2016, Congress passed the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, or PROMESA, a law that created the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico, a government body focused on helping Puerto Rico restructure its debt and return to financial health. Centro de Periodismo Investigativo (CPI), an investigative nonprofit news organization, sought documents from the Board under Puerto Rico’s constitution and public records law. Litigation ensued, and the Board claimed that it could not be sued in federal court under the Eleventh Amendment and that it was exempt from compliance with Puerto Rico’s public records laws because they conflict with its obligations under PROMESA.
In the district court below, CPI successfully argued that the Board may be sued in federal court and is not exempt from Puerto Rico’s public records laws. The Board appealed the district court’s rulings to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.
Our Position: The First Circuit should affirm the district court’s ruling that the Board is subject to disclosure obligations under Puerto Rico law.
- PROMESA does not preempt Puerto Rico’s public records laws.
- Congress created the Board to achieve greater transparency and accountability as to Puerto Rico’s finances — a goal entirely consistent with the aim of Puerto Rico’s public records laws.
- Given the district court’s favorable decisions, the Board has been forced to disclose thousands of pages of records to CPI, enabling important reporting and oversight of the Board.
Quote: “It would be an absurd result if the Oversight Board that Congress established to create an open process to restore Puerto Rico’s fiscal health were allowed to keep the public in the dark about its activities. Such an outcome would further erode public confidence in the Board and undermine its effectiveness by inviting arbitrary actions, poor administration, and corruption.”
Related: This is the second friend-of-the-court brief the Reporters Committee has filed in support of CPI in this case. In 2017, the Reporters Committee filed a brief arguing that the district court should not dismiss the news outlet’s lawsuit and that the Oversight Board is subject to Puerto Rico’s constitution and laws that provide a public right of access to government records. After the district court ruled in favor of CPI in 2018, Reporters Committee Legal Director Katie Townsend called the decision “an important win for transparency and government accountability in Puerto Rico.”
U.S. Supreme Court brief:
First Circuit brief: