American Civil Liberties Union v. City of Eugene

Summarized by:

  • Court: Oregon Court of Appeals
  • Area(s) of Law: Administrative Law
  • Date Filed: 05-20-2015
  • Case #: A150403
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Nakamoto, J. for the Court; Armstrong, P.J.; & Egan, J.
  • Full Text Opinion

Under ORS 181.854(4) of the Oregon Public Records Law, records of an internal investigation of a police officer's conduct are generally protected from disclosure if that investigation does not result in discipline. A trial court properly denies such requests when it properly balances the competing interests of the public and the public office by favorably presuming disclosure is required.

Plaintiff ACLU (Plaintiff) appealed a trial court’s denial of Plaintiff’s request for records of an internal police investigation from the Civilian Review Board (CRB). The City of Eugene (City) argued at trial that, while Oregon’s Public Records Law permits inspection of any public record, the records of the CRB’s internal investigation falls under an exemption prohibiting disclosure of investigatory records of public safety officers which do not result in discipline. The CRB reviewed the police department’s use of force in a 2008 incident where an officer used a Taser when arresting a protestor. The investigation found that the officer did not use excessive force; the CRB confirmed this finding; and the officer was not disciplined. Plaintiff argued at trial and on appeal that public interest requires disclosure of the CRB’s investigation records because the CRB designated the case a “community impact case.” The trial court held as a matter of law that the balance between the competing interests of ensuring appropriate use of force in police actions and having a high quality, self-reviewing police department weighs in favor of nondisclosure. On review, the Court addressed whether the trial court erroneously weighed the public interest of disclosure of the records. The Court held that, while the law favors disclosure of public records, the trial court properly balanced the competing interests, and that the CRB was created to effect that purpose, thus obviating the need for public disclosure of the records. Affirmed.

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