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Case of the Month
March 2005

Case Overview

Evening Post Publishing Co., d/b/a The Post and 
Courier, v. City of North Charleston.

The Post and Courier filed a request, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), S.C. Code Ann. §§ 30-4-10 through -165 (1991 & Supp. 2004), seeking access to 911 tapes the City of North Charleston had in its possession regarding the shooting death of Eric Snowden. FOIA mandates disclosure of records held by a public body unless the documents fall within enumerated exceptions. The City refused the request because the tapes were to be used in an upcoming lynching trial. 

The Post and Courier filed a declaratory judgment action against the City in circuit court in Charleston County seeking a ruling that the newspaper was entitled to access to the tapes. Following a hearing, the circuit court judge denied the newspaper access to the tapes on the basis that they were exempt from disclosure under the FOIA because they were to be used in a prospective law enforcement action.[1] The Post and Courier filed an appeal with the South Carolina Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals agreed with the circuit court judge.[2]

The Post and Courier filed a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari in the South Carolina Supreme Court asking the Court to review the Court of Appeals' decision. The Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari to review the Court of Appeals' decision. Both parties filed briefs and the case was set for oral argument. The Post and Courier argues that the Court of Appeals essentially held that any information to be used in an upcoming trial falls within the exemption, a finding The Post and Courier maintains is too broad.


[1] This exemption states, "A public body may but is not required to exempt from disclosure the following information: . . . Records of law enforcement and public safety agencies not otherwise available by state and federal law that were compiled in the process of detecting and investigating crime if the disclosure of the information would harm the agency by . . . the premature release of information to be used in a prospective law enforcement action . . . ." S.C. Code Ann. § 30-4-40(a)(3)(B)(Supp. 2004).

[2] On February 26, 2002, the 911 tapes were played in court during the lynching trial. The tapes were released to The Post and Courier at that time. The City argued on appeal that the issue was moot because the tapes had been released to The Post and Courier. However, the Court of Appeals chose to decide the appeal because the facts are capable of repetition yet evading review - they are such that they could occur again but not be reviewed on appeal before the information was turned over. 


Case Briefs

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Petitioner's Brief (466 KB)

Respondent's Brief (1.285 MB)
Petitioner's Reply Brief (107 KB)

 


Oral Arguments

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