American Civil Liberties Union v. City of Eugene

Summarized by:

  • Court: Oregon Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Administrative Law
  • Date Filed: 09-14-2016
  • Case #: S063430
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Walters, J. for the Court; Balmer, C.J.; Kistler, J.; Landau, J.; Baldwin, J.; Brewer, J.; & DeHoog, J. pro tempore.
  • Full Text Opinion

The public has a particularly strong interest in police department personnel investigations arising out of use of force complaints. However, a public body may separate material that is exempt from disclosure (such as personal identifying information) from material that is not exempt and make the nonexempt material available for inspection.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) appealed the trial and appellate court’s decision that the records at issue were exempt from disclosure under Oregon's public record request law, ORS 192.420. ORS 192.420(1) exempts from inspection information about a personnel investigation of a public safety officer if the investigation does not require disclosure of the information for public interest. When that exemption applies, a trial court must determine the nature and significance of the public’s interest in disclosure and the public body’s interest in confidentiality. Subsequently, the court must balance those competing interests and determine which interest predominates. ACLU argued that the public had an interest in transparency of the police department and CRB operations. The City argued that its interest was to protect the privacy of its police officers and in effectively disciplining, evaluating, and training those officers. The Court held that the public interest was particularly strong when it came to complaints about the use of force and the review of those complaints. The Court further held that the public body’s interest in protecting the privacy of officers whose conduct was questioned was diminished because the identity of those officers and their alleged misconduct had already been made a matter of public record. The Court did acknowledge that private or personal identifying information should remain confidential, which is why it chose to remand the case to give the City an opportunity to identify any private or personal identifying information. Reversed and remanded. 

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