DAVID K. TAYLOR
SCHOOL ADMINISTRATIVE UNIT #55
Submitted: June 21, 2017
K. Taylor, self-represented party, by brief.
Drummond Woodsum & MacMahon, of Portsmouth (Demetrio F.
Aspiras and James A. O'Shaughnessy on the brief), for the
plaintiff, David K. Taylor, appeals a decision of the
Superior Court (Anderson, J.) entering judgment in
favor of the defendant, School Administrative Unit #55 (SAU),
in the plaintiff's Right-to-Know lawsuit. See
RSA ch. 91-A (2013 & Supp. 2016). He argues that the
trial court erred in interpreting certain provisions of RSA
chapter 91-A and erroneously concluded that the SAU's
policy for transmitting public records complied with the
statute. We affirm.
pertinent facts are as follows. On May 12, 2016, the
SAU's Board (the Board) held a regularly-scheduled
meeting. During the meeting, the Board voted to go into
nonpublic session to discuss two topics: the
superintendent's evaluation, and "emergency
functions." While in nonpublic session, the Board voted
to seal the minutes of the meeting.
2016, the plaintiff asked the executive assistant to the
superintendent to send him the minutes of the May 12
nonpublic session by e-mail. She informed the plaintiff that
she could not provide him with those minutes because they
were sealed. On July 15, the plaintiff e-mailed the executive
assistant again, asking her to forward to him, by e-mail, a
June 22 e-mail regarding the nonpublic session that had been
sent to the Board. The executive assistant again denied the
plaintiff's request, referring him to the SAU's
Right-to-Know procedure. The procedure requires members of
the public seeking electronic records to come to the
SAU's offices with a thumb drive in sealed, original
packaging or to purchase a thumb drive from the SAU at its
actual cost of $7.49.
August, the plaintiff filed a complaint in the trial court in
which he alleged that the SAU had violated RSA chapter 91-A
by voting in closed session to seal the minutes of the
nonpublic session of the May 12 meeting and by refusing to
forward to him, by e-mail, the records he requested. He also
challenged the SAU's practice of charging 50 cents per
page for hard copies of public records. The plaintiff sought
the following relief: invalidation of the vote to seal the
minutes of the nonpublic session; release of the sealed
minutes; a declaration that the SAU's thumb drive policy
violates RSA chapter 91-A; an order requiring transmission of
the requested records to him by e-mail; other injunctive
relief; and litigation costs.
the complaint was filed, the SAU acknowledged that the Board
had violated RSA 91-A:3, III, which requires that votes to
seal minutes of nonpublic sessions be "taken in public
session." RSA 91-A:3, III (Supp. 2016). On August 29,
the Board voted, in a public session, to seal only the
portion of the nonpublic session concerning emergency
functions. The portion of the minutes regarding the
evaluation of the superintendent was released, with one
a hearing, the trial court ruled that the SAU's policy
for transmitting public records complied with RSA chapter
91-A. Because of the SAU's decision to keep sealed only
the portion of the nonpublic session with respect to
emergency functions, the trial court also found that the
plaintiff's challenge of the SAU's action was
"moot in all but one respect, " specifically, the
single redacted sentence of the superintendent's
evaluation. On this issue, the court ordered that the SAU
provide it with an un-redacted copy of the public minutes for
in camera review.
trial court also determined that the petitioner's lawsuit
had been necessary to ensure the Board's compliance with
RSA 91-A:3, and, therefore, awarded him litigation costs.
However, the trial court ruled that the plaintiff had no
standing to challenge the cost of paper copies, because there
was no evidence that he had asked for, or paid for, such
copies. The trial court also found that the Board did not
violate RSA 91-A:3, III by producing two sets of minutes for
the May 12 meeting, one containing the public portion and the
other the sealed portion. Finally, the court declined to
enter the injunctive relief sought by the plaintiff.
plaintiff moved for reconsideration, which the court denied.
In denying the motion, the court determined "that the
privacy interest of certain employees in non-disclosure
outweighs the public interest in disclosure of the single
redacted sentence which concerns employees who are
subordinate to the superintendent." This appeal
appeal, the plaintiff first argues that the SAU's policy
for transmitting public records violates RSA chapter 91-A.
Next, he asserts that the cyber security concerns cited by
the SAU in support of its public records transmission policy
are undermined by the SAU's regular use of e-mail. He
also argues that the SAU's policy is unreasonable and
therefore unconstitutional. Finally, he contends that the
legislative history of the 2016 amendment to RSA 91-A:4, IV
supports the free delivery of electronic records. Because the
issues the plaintiff raises require us to determine whether
the trial court correctly interpreted the Right-to-Know Law,
our review is de novo. New Hampshire Resident
Ltd. Partners of Lyme Timber Co. v. New Hampshire Dep't
of Revenue Admin., 162 N.H. 98, 102 (2011).
purpose of the Right-to-Know Law is to ensure both the
greatest possible public access to the actions, discussions
and records of all public bodies, and their accountability to
the people." 38 Endicott St. N. v. State Fire
Marshal, 163 N.H. 656, 660 (2012) (quotation omitted).
"It thus furthers our state constitutional requirement
that the public's right of access to governmental
proceedings and records shall not be unreasonably
restricted." Id.; see also N.H. CONST.
pt. I, art. 8. "Although the statute does not provide
for unrestricted access to public records, we resolve
questions regarding the Right-to-Know Law with a view to
providing the utmost information in order to best effectuate
these statutory and constitutional objectives." 38
Endicott St. N., 163 N.H. at 660. "As a result, we
broadly construe provisions favoring disclosure and interpret
the exemptions restrictively." Green v. Sch. Admin.
Unit #55, 168 N.H. 796, 799 (2016) ...