Need to Protect Private Records Leads to Creative Class Action
Because public agencies are under tight deadlines to produce requested records, it takes swift and decisive action and knowledge of administrative and civil procedures to challenge a disclosure decision in court. When the Oregon Department of Justice ordered another state agency to disclose personal financial records of over 200 shareholders of a private corporation to the Register-Guard newspaper, we filed a lawsuit on behalf of the affected shareholders against the newspaper and agency custodian. We navigated several procedural challenges from the defendants and ultimately succeeded in certifying a class action that ensured that shareholders’ privacy concerns could be efficiently presented to the court. Before we could have a trial about whether the shareholders’ records were exempt under the “personal privacy” exemption in ORS 192.502(2), the records were leaked to the newspaper. Though the leak “mooted” the lawsuit and resulted in a voluntary dismissal, we won the only remaining legal battle when the judge denied the newspaper’s request that the shareholders pay its attorney fees and costs.