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5. Pleading format


  • Alabama

    A complaint filed pursuant to the Alabama Open Meetings Act must be verified, must state specifically the applicable grounds for the complaint as set out in Section 36-25A-9(b)(1)-(4), and must name in their official capacity all members of the governmental body remaining in attendance at the alleged meeting held in violation of the Act. Ala. Code § 36-25A-9(a).

    A petition for injunctive relief, sometimes coupled with a prayer for declaratory judgment, will be the typical style of pleading for civil actions under the Alabama Open Meetings Act. Ala. Code § 36-25A-9(e). If the closed meeting has already taken place, a mootness argument should be countered with the assertion that the wrongful closure is capable of repetition yet evading review.

    In the absence of an actual incident of wrongful closure under the former open meetings law, Alabama courts refused to consider a declaratory judgment action that asked for a declaration that certain entities were subject to the open meetings law or that certain kinds of meetings were open under the law. See Huntsville-Madison Cnty. Airport Auth. v. Huntsville Times, 564 So. 2d 904 (Ala. 1990); see also In re Joint Petition of Ala. Press Ass'n and Alabama State Bar Ass'n, No. 195207 (Ala., Nov. 1, 1996) (joint petition for supervisory writ to resolve conflict in Alabama Supreme Court's decision in Dunn, 628 So. 2d 519 (Ala. 1993), and the State Bar Association's opinion of general counsel regarding closure of public meetings pursuant to the attorney-client privilege; writ denied without opinion).

    If the challenge is to closure of court proceedings, the proper pleading format is a motion to intervene asking for the immediate opportunity to be heard in opposition to closure. See, e.g., Ex parte Birmingham News Co., 624 So. 2d 1117 (Ala. Crim. App. 1993) (First Amendment, not open meetings law, case).

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  • Alaska

    Pleadings must be in the format generally prescribed for civil litigation in the Alaska Court System.

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  • Arizona

    Special action: This type of action is now the proper procedure to obtain relief previously obtained by writs of certiorari, mandamus or prohibition.  See Rules of Procedure for Special Actions (Ariz. R.P.S.A.).

    Special actions regarding OML typically involve situations where the public body has failed to perform a duty required by law as to which it has no discretion.  Ariz. R.P.S.A. 3(a).

    Declaratory judgment action: Occasionally such actions are brought by a public body to resolve its duties under the OML.  See Ariz. R. Civ. P. 57.

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  • Arkansas

    The normal rules of pleading that govern civil cases apparently apply in FOIA suits. See generally Rule 8, Ark. R. Civ. P. Arkansas is a “fact pleading” jurisdiction with requirements more stringent than those applicable in federal court. See Harvey v. Eastman Kodak Co., 271 Ark. 783, 610 S.W.2d 582 (1981). More informal pleading may be permissible in FOIA cases, however, because the act refers to a “petition” that is to be filed in an “appeal” to the appropriate circuit court. Ark. Code Ann. § 25-19-107(a) & (b). There being no reported cases on this point, an FOIA plaintiff should follow the general pleading rules. Cf. Dauer v. Ponder, 274 Ark. 166, 623 S.W.2d 3 (1981).

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  • California

    A petition for mandamus must meet all statutory requirements for a pleading under the Code of Civil Procedure, the local rules of the court, and any applicable case law. Lawsuits for declaratory or injunctive relief must contain the required allegations and must comply with state law.

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  • Colorado

    A complaint for injunctive relief should be verified or accompanied by an affidavit of the party seeking relief. It should also state that relief is being sought pursuant to Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-6-402(9), specify the relief requested, and state that no plain or adequate remedy exists at law.

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  • Connecticut

    See Records Outline at V.D.

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  • Delaware

    The Federal Rules are generally followed by the Court of Chancery.

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  • District of Columbia

    Not specifically addressed.

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  • Florida

    There is no special pleading format to enforce the Florida Sunshine Law.

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  • Georgia

    Suits to enforce the Act are typically initiated by filing with the court a verified complaint against the agency officials who have violated or threatened to violate the Act, explaining the violation and describing the relief sought. The complaint typically seeks issuance of an injunction to remedy past and/or prevent future violations and is accompanied by a motion and supporting memorandum to the same effect. Where time is an issue, the motion should request entry of an immediate injunction and request that the court hear the matter on an emergency basis.

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  • Hawaii

    See Haw. R. Civ. Proc. 10 and court rules.

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  • Idaho

    The statute requires no specific pleading format. The complaint should describe the violation and relief sought with sufficient specificity to meet the notice pleading requirements of the Idaho Rules of Civil Procedure and otherwise comply with those rules.

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  • Illinois

    These are governed by Section 3(c) of the Act. The court may grant appropriate relief, including but not limited to a mandamus order to open a meeting, an injunction against future violations, or declaring null and void any final action taken at a closed meeting.

    Although courts are authorized to declare null and void any final actions taken at a closed meeting in violation of the Act, 5 ILCS 120/3(c), such actions are not necessarily void. People ex rel. Graf v. Village of Lake Bluff, 321 Ill. App. 3d 897, 907, 748 N.E.2d 801, 811, 255 Ill. Dec. 97, 107 (2d Dist. 2001), rev’d on other grounds, 206 Ill. 2d 541, 795 N.E.2d 281, 276 Ill. Dec. 928 (2003). Relief under the Act is discretionary, see id., and minimal violations have been held not to support nullification of actions taken at such meetings. See Graf.

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  • Indiana

    There is no specific pleading format other than that required for lawsuits generally. Pleading forms are governed by Rule 10 of the Indiana Rules of Trial Procedure. Pleading captions must include the names of the parties, the title of the action, the court and cause number. Ind. R. Tr. P. 10. The pleadings must be signed, and copies served on all other parties or their counsel. Ind. R. Tr. P. 11, 4.

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  • Iowa

    Pleading format is governed by the Iowa Rules of Civil Procedure. See e.g., Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.401- 1.403.

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  • Kansas

    No provisions. Action governed by K.S.A. Chapter 60.

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  • Kentucky

    Kentucky’s Open Meetings Act does not provide for any specific pleading format. Pleading formats in Kentucky’s Circuit Courts are governed generally by the Kentucky Rules of Civil Procedure and more specifically by local rules of the various Circuits.

    To receive priority on the docket the pleading should alert the Circuit Court that the lawsuit concerns the Open Meetings Act. See Ky. Rev. Stat. 61.848(4).

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  • Louisiana

    Not specified in the Statute.

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  • Maine

    An action may be filed as a statutory appeal or a complaint.  See  1 M.R.S.A. § 409(2). The appeal should include a concise statement of the action(s) taken during the alleged executive session(s) which would entitle the plaintiff to the types of relief provided for under 1 M.R.S.A. § 409(2). Dubois v. Town of Arundel, 2019 ME 21, ¶ 10, 202 A.3d 524. Any minutes, agenda, or other documentation related to the meeting should be attached to the appeal.

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  • Maryland

    The Act requires the filing of a petition. § 3-401(b). The petition may request a determination of the applicability of the Act's provisions, ask the court to compel the public body to comply with the Act, or request that the action of the public body be voided. § 3-401(b)(1). It must be noted that the public body enjoys a rebuttable presumption that its actions did not violate the Act. § 3-401(c). Thus, the party alleging a failure to comply has the burden of proof. Id.

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  • Massachusetts

    Massachusetts has in substance adopted the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The initial pleading is the complaint. M.R. Civ. P. 7(a).

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  • Michigan

    Those seeking to have a decision of a public body invalidated under the OMA must allege not only that the public body failed to comply with the OMA, but also that this failure impaired the rights of the public. See Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 15.270(2); Esperance v. Chesterfield Twp., 280 N.W.2d 559, 563 (1979); Cape v. Howell Bd. of Educ., 145 Mich. App. 459, 378 N.W.2d 506, 510 (1985). "A mere recital that the rights of the public were impaired is insufficient to support a request for invalidation. . . . Rather, the plaintiff must present factual allegations to support the conclusion that the rights of the public were impaired." Jude v. Heselschwerdt, 228 Mich. App. 667, 672 (1998). The similar structure of the FOIA and OMA suggests that, as with the FOIA, an OMA plaintiff need not allege that the meetings in question were not subject to statutory exemption, since exemption is a defense to actions under the OMA. Booth Newspapers, Inc. v. Regents of the Univ. of Mich., 93 Mich. App. 100, 286 N.W.2d 55, 59 (1979).

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  • Minnesota

    It is expected that pleadings will follow the local rules for Minnesota state courts.

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  • Mississippi

    Pleading format is governed by the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure. No format is specified in the statute for complaints to the Ethics Commission.

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  • Missouri

    An action under the Sunshine Law does not have any particular pleading requirements different from any other civil action.

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  • Montana

    There is no particular pleading format and the court suggests that a petition rather than a formal complaint under the Montana Rules of Civil Procedure may be filed.

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  • Nebraska

    Nebraska Rules of Pleading in Civil Actions govern pleadings in civil cases. If complaining party files suit, such action must comply with general rules governing civil cases.

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  • Nevada

    A private party could either file a suit Nevada Rules of Civil Procedure or file a petition for a writ of mandate under Chapter 34 of Nevada Revised Statutes.

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  • New Jersey

    The court action is initiated by a Complaint in Lieu of Prerogative Writ, which alleges the public body's noncompliance with specific provisions of the OPMA and which requests specific forms of relief. See N.J.S.A. 10:4-15 and 16.

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  • New Mexico

    Follows normal New Mexico Rules of Civil Procedure.

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  • New York

    The line between what is properly the function of an Article 78 proceeding and what is properly the function of a declaratory action is obscure. See Siegel, New York Practice §§ 437, 557 (West Publishing 1991).

    An Article 78 proceeding is commenced by service of a notice of petition and verified petition. N.Y. Civ. Prac. L. & R. § 7804(c) (McKinney 1981). The verified petition may be accompanied by affidavits or other written proof. Subsequent pleadings include a verified answer, which must state pertinent and material facts, and a reply to any new matter in the answer. N.Y. Civ. Prac. L. & R. § 7804(d) (McKinney 1981).

    Where the nature of relief sought is an injunction and a declaration that actions were improper a declaratory judgment action should be commenced. Glens Falls Newspapers v. Warren Cty. Board of Supervisors, 195 A.D.2d 898, 601 N.Y.S.2d 29 (3d Dep’t 1993) (converting CPLR article 78 proceeding into a declaratory judgment action); Plattsburgh Publishing Company v. City of Plattsburgh, 185 A.D.2d 518, 586 N.Y.S.2d 346 (3d Dep’t 1992) (converting CPLR article 78 proceeding into a declaratory judgment action); Humphrey v Posluszny, 175 A.D.2d 587, 573 N.Y.S.2d 790 (4th Dep’t 1991) appeal dismissed, 78 N.Y.2d 1072, 576 N.Y.S.2d 222, 582 N.E.2d 605. See Siegel, New York Practice §§ 436-441 (West Publishing 1991).

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  • North Carolina

    The Open Meetings Law does not prescribe or require any particular pleading format. However, complaints filed pursuant to the Open Meetings Law often include a request that it be treated as a petition for extraordinary injunctive relief, in the nature of a writ of mandamus.

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  • North Dakota

    The open meetings law does not contain special procedural rules; the traditional rules of civil procedure apply.

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  • Ohio

    There is no special pleading format for enforcing the duties of the statute. The appendix includes a sample format.

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  • Oklahoma

    There is no specific civil relief provided in the Act. To plead a cause of action, the petition should contain a statement showing that: the defendant is a public body, the wrongful action was part of the public meeting process, and the defendant’s action violated a specific provision of the Act—e.g., lack of agenda, failure to give notice, inadequacy of notice, unauthorized executive session. Any action taken in willful violation of the Open Meeting Act “shall be invalid.” 25 O.S. § 313. Willful is defined “to include any act or omission which has the effect of actually deceiving or misleading the public regarding the scope of matters to be taken up at the meeting. This would also include agency action which exceeds the scope of action defined by the notice.” 2000 OK AG 07.

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  • Oregon

    Relevant rules can be found in the Oregon Rules of Civil Procedure, the Oregon Uniform Trial Court Rules and any local trial court rules.

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  • Pennsylvania

    The manner in which a “legal challenge” is to be initiated is not defined in the Sunshine Act, and it is not clear from the text how specific the grounds for the challenge must be. Thus, the manner in which a legal challenge is initiated, whether by complaint, writ of summons, agreement, “or other traditionally recognized means” is not significant. Tom Mistick & Sons, Inc. v. City of Pittsburgh, 567 A.2d 1107 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1989), appeal denied, 589 A.2d 695 (Pa. 1990). Appeals under the Right to Know Law may be instructive. When an appeal is brought in the Commonwealth Court, as opposed to the Court of Common Pleas, the proper pleading is a petition for review pursuant to Pa. R.A.P. 1501, et seq. See Ristau v. Casey, 647 A.2d 642 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1994). When an appeal is taken to a Court of Common Pleas, counsel should consult the local court rules for guidance.

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  • Rhode Island

    The pleading is in the form of a complaint, alleging the violation and including a prayer for relief.

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  • South Carolina

    Summons and complaint are pursuant to South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure.

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  • South Dakota

    Often this genre of actions requires pleading in the form of an affidavit.

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  • Tennessee

    The statute provides for no specific pleading format, but Tennessee citizenship should be included in the allegations since that status is necessary for standing to enforce the Act. See Curve Elementary School Parent & Teachers Org. v. Lauderdale County Sch. Bd., 855 S.W.2d at 858; T.C.A. § 8-44-106(a).

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  • Texas

    The pleading format in an Open Meetings Act case is no different than that for any other civil lawsuit in Texas. The procedures are governed by the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.

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  • Utah

    The complaint filed with the district court should be captioned as required by Rule 10 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. (For example, the caption should include the plaintiff’s name, address, and telephone number or the name, address, and telephone number of the plaintiff’s attorney; should indicate the names of the plaintiffs and the defendant (i.e., the agency or the public body being sued); and should indicate that the pleading is a complaint). The allegations in the complaint should, at a minimum, include the following:

    (1) the name of the person or organization challenging the violation of the Open Meetings Act;

    (2) the name of the public body that allegedly violated or proposes to violate the Open Meetings Act;

    (3) a statement of the court’s jurisdiction over the matter (e.g., the meeting occurred in the county over which the court has jurisdiction);

    (4) the date, time, and location of the challenged meeting;

    (5) the members of the public body who attended the meeting, if known;

    (6) the matters discussed at the meeting, if known;

    (7) the reasons, if any, given for the public body’s closure of the meeting;

    (8) the facts indicating that the entity holding the meeting is a “public body” as defined in the Open Meetings Act;

    (9) the facts indicating that the meeting to which the plaintiff was denied access was a “meeting” as defined by the Open Meetings Act;

    (10) the facts indicating that there was a quorum of the public body present at the meeting;

    (11) a statement that the meeting was not a “chance meeting” or “social meeting”;

    (12) a statement, if applicable, that the public body failed to approve the closing of the meeting by a two-thirds vote of the members of the public body;

    (13) a statement that the topics discussed at the meeting were not included in the list of exempt topics set forth in Utah Code section 52-4-205;

    (14) a statement, if applicable, that the public body failed to give adequate notice of the meeting;

    (15) a statement, if applicable, that the public body failed to keep adequate minutes of the meeting;

    (16) a statement of the relief sought from the court (e.g., an order declaring that action taken at the meeting is void; an order to compel compliance with, or to enjoin violations of, the Open Meetings Act; or a declaratory judgment on the applicability of the Open Meetings Act to the discussions or decisions of the public body at the meeting);

    (17) a statement of the plaintiff’s efforts to obtain access to the meetings; and

    (18) a request for reasonable attorneys’ fees and court costs and such other just and equitable relief as the court deems appropriate.

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  • Vermont

    There is no prescribed format for pleadings — a simple complaint will do.

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  • Virginia

    Suits for injunctive relief or for a writ of mandamus are equitable remedies, and thus, a petition in the form of a complaint seeking equitable remedies is appropriate. It must be accompanied by a sworn affidavit.

    A form petition for injunctive or mandamus relief under the Act in a General District Court [Form DC-95] is available on the Supreme Court of Virginia’s website. See

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  • Washington

    Not specified. The usual rules of civil procedure apply.

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  • West Virginia

    There is no established pleading format. The petition should contain a short and plain statement of the facts entitling the petitioner to relief and a description of the relief sought. If injunctive relief is sought, the petition must be verified, although generally no bond would be required. The form of the pleading will depend on the nature of the relief sought. It may be a petition for writ of mandamus, a writ of prohibition, a declaratory judgment action, or a complaint seeking injunctive relief.

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  • Wisconsin

    The normal pleading format is an action for a civil forfeiture brought on the relation of the attorney general, district attorney or, where applicable, the person complaining. Wis. Stat. §§ 19.96, 19.97.

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  • Wyoming

    Pleading follows the Wyoming Rules of Civil Procedure. Wyo. Stat. § 16-3-114(a) (1977, Rev. 1982). But see Wyo. Stat. § 16-3-114(b). The Supreme Court has the authority to determine the content of the record upon review, pleadings to be filed, the time and manner for filing pleadings, records and other documents and the extent to which supplemental testimony and evidence may be taken or considered by the district court. Such rules would supersede existing statutory provisions.

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