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The Salt Lake Tribune v. State Records Committee

Supreme Court of Utah

December 4, 2019

The Salt Lake Tribune and its reporter, Matthew Piper, Appellees,
v.
State Records Committee, Appellant, and Brigham Young University, Intervenor and Appellant.

          Heard October 4, 2019

          On Appeal of Interlocutory Order Third District, Salt Lake The Honorable Laura Scott No. 160904365

          Michael Patrick O'Brien, Mark D. Tolman, C. Michael Judd, Salt Lake City, for appellees

          Sean D. Reyes, Att'y Gen., Brent A. Burnett, Asst. Solic. Gen., Salt Lake City, for appellant

          James S. Jardine, Samuel C. Straight, Salt Lake City, Steven M. Sandberg, David M. Andersen, Provo, for intervenor-appellant

          Justice Petersen authored the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice Durrant, Judge Orme, Judge Mortensen, and Judge Hagen joined.

          Having recused themselves, Associate Chief Justice Lee, Justice Himonas, and Justice Pearce do not participate herein; Court of Appeals Judges Gregory K. Orme, David N. Mortensen, and Diana Hagen sat.

          OPINION

          Petersen, Justice

         INTRODUCTION

         ¶1 The court of appeals certified this interlocutory appeal to us to determine whether the Brigham Young University Police Department is a "governmental entity" subject to the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA).[1] However, after certification, the legislature amended the statute to explicitly define the police departments of private universities as governmental entities subject to GRAMA, with Brigham Young University's support. And the Salt Lake Tribune has made a new GRAMA request for the contested records under the amended statute. Accordingly, answering the question presented will not have any precedential value for future cases, and it is not clear that doing so will materially affect the final decision in this case or the ultimate determination of whether the Tribune gets the documents it seeks here. We therefore conclude that it will better serve the administration and interests of justice to remand this case back to the district court where the proceedings can be finalized and any remaining appellate questions can be handled on direct appeal.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 In 2016, the Salt Lake Tribune (Tribune) began investigating allegations that Brigham Young University (BYU) was mishandling victims' reports of sexual abuse. Specifically, the Tribune was exploring claims that BYU's Police Department (University Police) was aiding the BYU Honor Code Office in investigating and disciplining students who had reported sexual abuse for possible ecclesiastical discipline.

         ¶3 As part of this investigation, the Tribune's reporter Matthew Piper sent a GRAMA request[2] to the University Police. He sought three categories of documents: (1) all police records since 2011 referencing the term "honor code"; (2) all GRAMA responses from the University Police to the BYU Honor Code Office or Title IX Office since 2011; and (3) all emails between the University Police and six specified email addresses.

         ¶4 The University Police provided documents related to the first two categories, but it refused to provide documents related to the third category. According to the University Police, it did not have any "such law enforcement/public safety records related email" ...


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