Opinion:Lawson v. Sequoyah County 911 Trust Authority, 2022 OK CIV APP 39
Subject Matter:Civil Procedure
Date Decided:July 29, 2022
Trial Court:District Court of Sequoyah County; Judge Waters
Route to this Court:Lawson Bail Bonds only appealed the trial court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of Sequoyah County 911 Trust Authority with respect to the declaratory judgment claim for relief and, whether the Trust Authority’s policy of referring private individuals to the Court Clerk’s Office or to the online source found a when warrant information is requested violated 51 O.S. § 24A.8 of the Open Records Act.
Facts:Lawson, a bail bondsman operating in Sequoyah County, Oklahoma, filed this Open Records Act lawsuit on September 30, 2021, stemming from a series of telephone calls he had made on May 23, 2020. Lawson sought information regarding an outstanding warrant on a specific person, Lawson first called the Sequoyah County Sheriff’s Office and then David Slaughter, Director of the Sequoyah County 911 Trust Authority. Both the Sheriff’s Office and Slaughter advised Lawson to contact the Sequoyah County Court Clerk’s office to obtain the information he was seeking. Lawson never asked to inspect or copy any records. He was seeking a verbal response over the phone regarding information that was publically available on the website. 

Slaughter, the 911 Coordinator for Sequoyah County, testified that the Court Clerk’s Office provides his office with copies of warrants, together with any updates, whether a warrant has been recalled, any changes in the bond amount, and any changes in a bond’s conditions. Slaughter also testified that when private individuals call in regarding bond information and warrants that the Authority refers them to the Court Clerk’s Office or ODCR, and that the Authority does not give out that kind of information over the phone. However, he also testified that if law enforcement called requesting that information over the phone, that the Authority would give the officer that information.

The Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on March 8, 2022, which only addressed the assertion included in ¶ 7 of the Petition: i.e., that summary judgment was appropriate because Lawson “never requested to inspect or copy the document at issue, i.e., an arrest warrant.” The Response by Lawson argued that “[n]othing in the statute prohibits the agency from providing the requested information over the phone . . .” and also that the policy of the 911 Authority violates the Open Records Act because, when warrant information is requested by a private individual, the 911 Authority “refer[s] them to the Court Clerk’s Office or to Oklahoma District Court Records (ODCR).” The trial court after the hearing entered an Order Granting the Authority’s Motion for Summary Judgment, ruling that the Authority did not refuse to make such documents available for public inspection or copying.
Standard of Review:Examination of a grant of summary judgment requires appellate courts to determine whether the record actually presented reveals disputed material facts. Id.; see also Weeks v. Wedgewood Village, Inc., 1976 OK 72, ¶ 12. In order to determine whether there is a controversy as to any material fact, appellate courts examine–“in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party,” Tiger v. Verdigris Valley Electric Cooperative, 2016 OK 74, ¶ 13. Grants of summary judgment are proper, and will be affirmed, when the evidentiary materials show “there is no substantial controversy as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Lowery v. Echostar Satellite Corp., 2007 OK 38, ¶ 11.
Analysis:Pursuant to Rule 1.36(g) of Supreme Court Rules, the Court “confine[d] its review to the record actually presented to the trial court.” Pursuant to that rule and based on Rule 1.26(a) & (b), the Court considered the legal issues presented to be only those issues raised by Lawson in the Exhibit “C” attached to his Petition in Error. Lawson did not raise as an issue in his appeal that the trial court erred with respect to its finding that summary judgment in favor of the Authority was appropriate in relation to the May 2020 phone call. Thus, the Court only reviewed whether Sequoyah County 911 Trust Authority’s policy concerning requests from the general public for information regarding warrants violated the Open Records Act.

In this case, the provision of the Open Records Act in dispute was found in § 24A.8A(6) which reads: “Law enforcement agencies shall make available for public inspection and copying, if kept, the following records: . . . (6) Disposition of all warrants, including orders signed by a judge of any court commanding a law enforcement officer to arrest a particular person.” The 911 Trust Authority’s argument was that it did not itself provide the records to private individuals because of a possible lack of accuracy to the documents that the Court Clerk’s Office or the website would not have. The Court clarified that there is no standard or exemption in the act to not give information that could possibly be inaccurate, it is the job of the authority to provide the records that it has. Therefore, the policy violated the Open Records Act. However, the Court also determined that Lawson’s argument that the 911 Trust Authority provide the information over the phone when requested was erroneous. There is no language in the statute that suggests that entities actively give the information when requested, for the language is passive and only requires that an entity make open the records that it has. There was no requirement that the 911 Trust Authority provide the warrant information, only that it was allowed to, but was also allowed to refuse to give the information over the phone. 

The Court granted Lawson summary judgment on the declaratory judgment for relief and for the other findings in the trial court’s Order of June 2022 to remain undisturbed.
Outcome:The Court held that summary judgment was erroneously granted to the 911 Trust Authority on the declaratory judgment claim concerning its policy and that Lawson was entitled to summary judgment on that claim. The trial court’s order of June 2022 was affirmed, in part, and reversed, in part.
Vote:3-0. Mitchell, V.C.J., Swinton, J., and Prince, P.J. (author) concur.
Other:The Court here pointed to its opinion in Heskett v. Heskett, 1995 OK CIV APP 52. That if “it appears to the court that there is no substantial controversy as to any material fact and that one of the parties is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the court shall render judgment to said party whether or not he is the moving party.” Even though Lawson’s response to the Motion for Summary Judgment did not include a counter-motion for summary judgment, it included a copy of the deposition of Slaughter and made a cogent argument that 911 Trust Authority’s policy violated the Open Records Act.