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The Clinic achieved an amicus victory in Love v. Atlanta Falcons Stadium Co., LLC where the defendant company voluntarily handed over 1,500 pages of documents sought by the plaintiffs under Georgia’s Open Records Act (ORA) rather than wait for the Georgia Court of Appeals to likely order the documents to be produced. The Clinic’s brief had argued that the plain language of the ORA and Georgia Supreme Court precedent required public disclosure of the documents.

In December 2020, the First Amendment Clinic authored an amicus brief to the Georgia Court of Appeals challenging a trial court decision that allowed a private entity, the Atlanta Falcons Stadium Company, LLC (StadCo), to withhold public records related to its work on behalf of a Georgia government agency.

Written on behalf of fellow amici the Georgia Press Association (GPA) and the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, the brief was co-authored by law student Nneka I. Ewulonu (May ’21 graduate) and First Amendment Clinic Director Clare R. Norins, who were joined by counsel for GPA David E. Hudson.

The brief argued that documents in StadCo’s possession relating to its construction and maintenance of Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium (the Stadium) were publicly obtainable under the plain language of Georgia’s Open Records Act (ORA) because StadCo had contracted with a state agency known as the Georgia World Congress Center Authority to perform the work. Specifically, the ORA’s definition of “public records” includes “all documents . . . prepared and maintained or received . . . by a private person or entity in the performance of a service or function for or on behalf of an agency.” O.C.G.A. § 50-18-70(b)(2) (emphasis added).  A prior interpretation of this language by the Georgia Supreme Court in Smith v. Northside Hospital, Inc., 302 Ga. 517 (2017) further supported that the StadCo documents should be publicly produced.

Additionally, the Stadium’s construction and its on-going maintenance have been paid for, in part, through bond financing by the City of Atlanta using a hotel/motel tax. Georgia courts recognize the strong public interest in transparency where taxpayer dollars are being spent.

After the Clinic filed its friend-of-the-court brief explaining the disconnect between the trial court’s ruling and Georgia’s sunshine law and the appeal was fully briefed by the parties, StadCo voluntarily handed over to the plaintiffs 1,500 pages of unredacted records responsive to the plaintiffs’ ORA request.

In so doing, StadCo tacitly acknowledged the likelihood that the appellate court would rule against them, and signaled that documents about work performed by a private entity on behalf of a government agency must be accessible to the public, as the law requires.

With the documents now disclosed, the Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal.

Read Norins and Ewulonu’s related blog post hosted by the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.