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Humane society deemed quasi-public and subject to open records laws

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  1. Freedom of Information
    NMU         FLORIDA    

    NMU         FLORIDA         Freedom of Information         Oct 4, 1999    

Humane society deemed quasi-public and subject to open records laws

  • A county humane society authorized under state law to seize animals was found to be a quasi-public agency subject to open records laws

A state appellate court in Daytona Beach ruled in late August that a local chapter of the humane society was subject to the state’s open records laws because of its status as a quasi-public agency.

The appellate court ruled that the Putnam County Humane Society had to release records concerning an animal control officer’s investigations, which prompted the agency to seize domestic animals.

Because the Putnam County Humane Society was authorized under Florida law to investigate animal cruelty and seize animals, records pertaining to those law enforcement activities are subject to the state Public Records Act, the court ruled.

“The investigation of a criminal act pursuant to authority to do so granted by the legislature is the performance of a public function,” the court held.

The humane society had argued that because it was a private organization, not supported with public money, it fell beyond the definition of a public agency under the act. The court, however, looked not at the humane society’s funding, but at its function.

In a 1997 case, the same appellate court found that records from a branch of the Salvation Army that had contracted with a county to provide probation services should be public. Even though the Salvation Army was a private organization, the fact that it had contracted to perform a public function was sufficient to subject the records pertaining to its contract with the county to the open records law, the court found. That decision was later affirmed by the state Supreme Court.

In applying the same reasoning to the humane society, the court found that because the society carried out a public function, as authorized to do so under state law, records about its law enforcement activities are public.

(Putnam County Humane Society v. Woodward; Counsel: Michael Woodward, pro se)

© 1999 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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