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Grafton County Attorneys Office v. Canner

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

August 23, 2016

GRAFTON COUNTY ATTORNEY'S OFFICE
v.
ELIZABETH CANNER & a.

          Argued: March 3, 2016

         Grafton

          Lara J. Saffo, county attorney, on the brief, for the Grafton County Attorney's Office.

          Prince Lobel Tye LLP, of Boston, Massachusetts (Robert A. Bertsche on the brief and orally), for Elizabeth Canner.

          DesMeules, Olmstead & Ostler, of Norwich, Vermont (George H. Ostler on the brief, and Cabot R. Teachout orally), for John Doe.

          Gallagher, Callahan & Gartrell, P.C., of Concord (Charles P. Bauer on the memorandum of law), for Town of Hanover/Hanover Police Department.

         

          BASSETT, J.

         John Doe appeals an order of the Superior Court (MacLeod, J.) ruling in favor of Elizabeth Canner. Canner requested, under the New Hampshire Right-to-Know Law, RSA chapter 91-A (2013 & Supp. 2015), access to records relating to Doe's arrest and prosecution. Prior to the filing of Canner's Right-to-Know requests, Doe had filed a petition for annulment under RSA 651:5 (2016). While Canner's request was pending, Doe's annulment petition was granted. The trial court concluded that, notwithstanding the fact that Doe's petition for annulment had been granted, records relating to Doe's arrest and prosecution are not categorically exempt from public inspection under the Right-to-Know Law. We affirm and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         This case presents an issue of first impression in New Hampshire: Whether records maintained by arresting and prosecuting agencies pertaining to an annulled arrest and the related prosecution are categorically exempt from public inspection under the Right-to-Know Law. Resolution of this case requires us to interpret several statutory provisions, including certain provisions of the Right-to-Know Law. "The ordinary rules of statutory construction apply to our review of the Right-to-Know Law." CaremarkPCS Health v. N.H. Dep't of Admin. Servs., 167 N.H. 583, 587 (2015) (quotation omitted). Thus, we are the final arbiter of the legislature's intent as expressed in the words of the statute considered as a whole. Id. When examining the language of a statute, we ascribe the plain and ordinary meaning to the words used. Id. We interpret legislative intent from the statute as written and will not consider what the legislature might have said or add language that the legislature did not see fit to include. Id. We also interpret a statute in the context of the overall statutory scheme and not in isolation. Id.

         "Our ultimate goal in construing the Right-to-Know Law is to further the statutory and constitutional objectives of increasing public access to all public documents and governmental proceedings and to provide the utmost information to the public about what its government is up to." Prof'l Firefighters of N.H. v. Local Gov't Ctr., 159 N.H. 699, 705 (2010) (quotation and citation omitted); see also N.H. CONST. pt. I, art. 8. "Thus, we construe provisions favoring disclosure broadly, while construing exemptions narrowly." Prof'l Firefighters of N.H., 159 N.H. at 707 (quotation omitted). The party arguing for nondisclosure has the burden of proof. See id.

         RSA 91-A:4, I (2013), in relevant part, states:

Every citizen during the regular or business hours of all public bodies or agencies, and on the regular business premises of such public bodies or agencies, has the right to inspect all governmental records in the possession, custody, or control of such public bodies or agencies, . . . except as otherwise prohibited by statute or RSA 91-A:5.

         (Emphasis added.) Doe argues that the records relating to his arrest and prosecution are exempt from public inspection under RSA 91-A:4, I, because the ...


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