News & Thought Leadership from Sulloway & Hollis

November 26, 2018

Right to Know Law: NH Supreme Court Recognizes Standing for Unidentified Requester of Government Records

The New Hampshire Supreme Court recently handed down a major ruling regarding the public’s right to access government records. The decision, Censabella v. Hillsborough County Attorney, No. 2017-0429, 2018 LEXIS 201 (N.H. Oct. 17, 2018), recognizes that the identity of a petitioner in a Right-to-Know request does not need to be disclosed when making the request.

In this case, the petitioner, through counsel, filed a petition to enjoin the Hillsborough County Attorney from further violations of the Right-to-Know Law, RSA 91-A:7. The petitioner claimed that her attorney filed a request for information from the Hillsborough County Attorney, but that the County Attorney’s responses were untimely and incomplete. The petitioner’s identity was not revealed until the petition was filed in Superior Court, at which time the County Attorney moved to dismiss. The County Attorney argued that because the petitioner was not identified directly or indirectly in any of the requests made by her attorney, that she lacked standing to bring the petition. The Superior Court granted the motion to dismiss.

On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the trail court’s determination. The Court rejected the County Attorney’s argument that the petitioner was not a “person aggrieved” under the statute because she “never directly requested inspection of government records, nor was she ever identified as a citizen upon whose behalf a request was made.” The Court stated that there is no such requirement in the Right-to-Know Law, noting that nothing in the statute requires the disclosure of the petitioner in the request. Further, given that the statute recognizes that a claimant may appear with counsel when pursuing a remedy, the Court reasoned that a claimant may make their request for records through counsel. The Court specifically noted that “given the competing interests inherent in a request to the government for disclosure, it would not be unreasonable for a requester to desire anonymity in the early stages when making a Right-to-Know Law request.”

The Court’s decision can be viewed here.