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Nardi v. King

Post categories

  1. Freedom of Information

Court: Indiana Supreme Court

Date Filed: July 1, 2024

Background: In 2021, Indiana resident Christopher Nardi sued the state’s Election Division, alleging that officials wrongfully denied his public records request seeking access to three documents. 

The trial court partially granted summary judgment in favor of Nardi, ordering the disclosure of one of the three documents at issue. Nardi later sought an amended ruling that would grant him more than $61,000 in attorney’s fees and costs because he had “substantially prevailed” in the litigation. Under the Indiana Access to Public Records Act, requesters who “substantially prevail” on their claims are entitled to recover fees and costs. 

The trial court issued an order concluding that Nardi substantially prevailed in the lawsuit. However, the court awarded him only one-third of the requested fees and costs. 

On appeal, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary judgment but reversed its partial grant for fees and costs. The appeals court found that Nardi had not substantially prevailed — and was not entitled to recover any of his fees — even though he had successfully obtained a record from an agency through litigation.

Nardi then filed a petition asking the Indiana Supreme Court to hear the case. 

Our Position: The Indiana Supreme Court should grant Nardi’s petition for transfer and vacate the Court of Appeals’ erroneous interpretation of APRA’s attorney’s fees provision.

  • “Substantially prevails” must be construed in a manner that is consistent with APRA’s statutory language and purpose, which is to facilitate government transparency.
  • An APRA plaintiff who, through litigation, obtains a public record or wins a disputed issue may “substantially prevail” regardless of the number or nature of records that were wrongfully withheld.
  • The appeals court’s erroneous interpretation of APRA’s fees provision is consequential to the news media’s ability to pursue information and, in turn, the public’s right to know.
  • The appeals court’s opinion is out of step with other state decisions; if not reversed, it would make Indiana an outlier.

From the Brief: “At a time when the news media is faced with both increased government secrecy and decreased financial resources to spend challenging that secrecy, it is crucial for journalists and newsrooms to know that if they pursue meritorious APRA litigation, and their efforts to vindicate the public’s right of access are successful, they will receive an award of reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.”

Related: Learn more about fee-shifting statutes and why they are so important in the fight for access to public records.

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