Judicial District, Salt Lake City The Honorable Andrew H.
Stone Case No. 100910873
Margaret D. Plane, Catherine L. Brabson, for appellee Salt
Lake City Corporation
Karthik Nadesan, for appellants Jordan River Restoration
Network and Jeff Salt
H. Tonks, Brent A. Burnett, for appellant State Records
Justice Petersen authored the opinion of the Court, in which
Chief Justice Durrant, Associate Chief Justice Lee, Justice
Himonas, and Justice Pearce joined.
JUSTICE PETERSEN, OPINION OF THE COURT
The Jordan River Restoration Network and its founder Jeff
Salt (collectively, JRRN) filed a request with Salt Lake City
Corporation (City) seeking every document related to the
planned construction of a sports complex along the Jordan
River. In the request, JRRN also asked the City to provide
the documents at no charge. The City granted the document
request, but denied JRRN's fee waiver request.
JRRN appealed the City's fee waiver denial to the City
Records Appeals Board, which ruled in JRRN's favor. The
City appealed that decision to the State Records Committee,
which also ruled in favor of JRRN. The City then petitioned
for judicial review of these administrative orders in the
district court. The court ruled in favor of the City,
concluding its fee waiver denial was reasonable.
JRRN challenges a number of the district court's
procedural and substantive rulings. We conclude that the
court conducted the review contemplated by the Government
Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA). And while we find
that the court did make some procedural errors, each was
harmless. Accordingly, we affirm.
JRRN is a coalition of individuals and organizations
committed to restoring and preserving the Jordan River and
the surrounding area. When JRRN's founder, Jeff Salt,
learned of the City's plan to develop a sports complex
along the river in Salt Lake County, he was concerned. He
ultimately came to oppose the plan altogether.
To obtain information about the project, JRRN filed somewhere
between five to twenty GRAMA requests with the City. The City
provided "roughly 700 pages of records" to JRRN
free of charge. However, JRRN did not find this information
to be sufficient and filed an extensive and detailed GRAMA
request on March 10, 2010, that effectively sought every
document related to the project. This is the request at issue
in this case.
In this request, JRRN asked for "all records in the
City's possession that related to the Project,"
including "all agreements related to the Project, all
correspondence and meeting information, all site selection
analysis, all budgets, and all engineering plans." Some
of the records sought had already been provided in response
to JRRN's earlier requests.
JRRN also asked the City to waive any fee associated with
producing the records. Salt justified the fee waiver request
by including on the request form: "nonprofit
organization, information for public good and education, not
used for profit."
While the City agreed to provide JRRN with the documents it
had requested, it denied the fee waiver request. By letter,
the City informed JRRN that the estimated cost of providing
the requested records would be two hundred dollars, and JRRN
would have to pay that amount "before any response to
the GRAMA request [could] begin." In the same letter,
the City informed JRRN that it could appeal the City's
decision to the City Records Appeals Board.
JRRN did so. After a hearing, the City Records Appeals Board
agreed with JRRN, and ordered the City to provide the
requested records without charge. The Appeals Board also
found that the request was "voluminous." The result
of this finding was to extend the period of time in which the
City was required to fulfill the request from ten business
days to forty-five days from the date of the hearing.
Both parties appealed to the State Records Committee. JRRN
appealed the Appeals Board's finding that the request was
voluminous and the City cross-appealed the determination that
JRRN was entitled to a fee waiver. After a hearing, the
Records Committee denied the City's cross-appeal.
The City filed a petition for judicial review in the district
court of the orders of both the Appeals Board and the Records
Committee. After some initial motion practice
followed by a significant period of inactivity, the parties
eventually exchanged initial disclosures, engaged in fact
discovery, and JRRN disclosed an expert witness. Both sides
then filed motions for summary judgment.
JRRN argued that the City's petition for judicial review
should be dismissed because it lacked standing to appeal the
decision of its own City Records Appeals Board and its
internal appeals process did not strictly comply with the
GRAMA statute. The district court denied JRRN's motion.
But the court partially granted the City's motion,
entering summary judgment against JRRN on each of its
counterclaims. However, the court found that there were
"factual issues as to whether the City's decision to
deny the fee waiver was reasonable." Accordingly, the
court could not grant summary judgment on that claim and
informed the parties that it would resolve the issue in a
trial de novo.
The City then filed a motion asking the court to determine
what the standard of review would be and which party would
have the burden of proof at the trial de novo. In a
written order, the court ruled that the burden of going
forward would be on "Respondents [JRRN] as the party
seeking relief in the form of a Court-ordered fee waiver from
the City." The court stated that it would review
"the City's decision to deny the fee waiver and not
the decision or proceedings of the City Appeals Board and
State Records Committee." The court further explained:
"At this state of review, those proceedings are not
relevant. The evidence cannot be limited to the record before
the State Records Committee because there is not a
After conducting the trial de novo, the district
court upheld the City's decision to deny the fee waiver.
The court issued detailed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of
Law, and ultimately held that "the City was entitled to
charge for the costs of [fulfilling the GRAMA Request]."
JRRN then filed this appeal. JRRN asserts that the court
should have granted summary judgment against the City because
it did not have standing to petition for judicial review, and
its internal appeals procedure did not strictly comply with
the GRAMA statute. JRRN also argues the court should not have
granted summary judgment against it on its counterclaims.
With regard to the bench trial, JRRN contends that the court:
(1) should have limited its review to the administrative
record rather than considering new evidence, (2) applied the
wrong standard of review, (3) should have assigned the burden
of proof to the City, and 4) misapplied the law.
We have jurisdiction to hear this case pursuant to Utah Code
JRRN raises a number of legal issues that we review for
correctness, without any deference to the holdings of the
Regarding our review of the district court's ruling
against JRRN on summary judgment, "the district
court's legal conclusions and ultimate grant or denial of
summary judgment are reviewed for correctness."
Massey v. Griffiths, 2007 UT 10, ¶ 8, 152 P.3d
312 (citing View Condo. Owners Ass'n v. MSICO,
L.L.C., 2005 UT 91, ¶ 17, 127 P.3d 697); see
also Graham v. Davis Cty. Solid Waste Mgmt. & Energy
Recovery Special Serv. Dist., 1999 UT App 136, ¶ 7,
979 P.2d 363 ("On appeal from a grant of summary
judgment, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to
the non moving party and affirm only if there are no disputed
issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.").
JRRN's challenge to the district court's conclusion
that the City had standing is a mixed question of law and
fact. "[W]hen reviewing a lower court's standing
determination we have stated that 'the question of
whether a given individual or association has standing to
request a particular relief is primarily a question of law,
although there may be factual findings that bear on the
issue.'" Utah Chapter of Sierra Club v. Utah Air
Quality Bd., 2006 UT 74, ¶ 13, 148 P.3d 960
(quoting Kearns-Tribune Corp. v. Wilkinson, 946 P.2d
372, 373 (Utah 1997)). We have acknowledged a spectrum of
deference for mixed questions, but have ultimately determined
that "[l]aw-like mixed questions are reviewed de novo,
while fact-like mixed questions are reviewed
deferentially." Sawyer v. Dep't of Workforce
Servs., 2015 UT 33, ¶¶ 10-11, 345 P.3d 1253.
Since this is a mixed question of law and fact that is
primarily a question of law, we review the district
court's determination for correctness. See id.
The determination of the appropriate standard of review is a
question of law that we review for correctness. See Drake
v. Indus. Comm'n of Utah, 939 P.2d 177, 181 (Utah
1997). The district court's allocation of the burden of
proof is also a question of law that we review for
correctness, Beaver Cty. v. Utah State Tax
Comm'n, 916 P.2d 344, 357 (Utah 1996), with "no
deference to the district court's legal
conclusions." Salt Lake City Corp. v. Jordan River
Restoration Network, 2012 UT 84, ¶ 32, 299 P.3d 990
(citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted).
We review the district court's application of GRAMA for
correctness. State v. Graham, 2006 UT 43, ¶ 16
n.7, 143 P.3d 268.
This case presents questions about the procedural steps the
district court took in hearing the case, and whether the
court's ultimate decisions on the merits were correct.
First, we address the court's summary judgment rulings.
We then take up JRRN's challenges to the court's
handling of the trial de novo regarding the standard
of review, the burden of proof, and the scope of the review.
Finally, we assess whether the court correctly applied GRAMA.
JRRN claims the district court should have granted summary
judgment against the City because the City lacked standing to
petition for judicial review. JRRN reasons that the City
should not have been allowed to appeal the decision of its
own City Records Appeals Board, so the City lost standing
after that point in the proceedings. Before addressing this
argument, it is helpful to review the avenues GRAMA
establishes for appealing the denial of a fee waiver request.
GRAMA permits a governmental entity to charge a reasonable
fee to recoup the actual cost of providing records in
response to a GRAMA request. Utah Code § 63G-2-203(1)
(2010). But the statute encourages entities to fulfill a
record request without charge when "releasing the record
primarily benefits the public rather than a person,"
among other reasons. Id. § 63G-2-203(4)(a).
This statutory language gives a government entity
discretion-it encourages but does not mandate an
entity to waive its costs when a request benefits the public.
But despite the discretionary nature of this provision, a
requester who believes a government entity's fee waiver
denial was unreasonable can challenge the denial in the same
way a person appeals the denial of a record request.
Id. § 63G-2-203(6)(a). First, the requester can
appeal the denial to the entity's chief administrative
officer. Id. § 63G-2-401. If the chief
administrative officer denies the request, the requester may
appeal the denial ...