Nolan v. Little

196 S.W.3d 1 (2004)

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Nolan v. Little

Arkansas Supreme Court
196 S.W.3d 1 (2004)

LJ

Facts

C. D. Nolan (plaintiff) filed a request pursuant to Arkansas’s open-records law seeking various seed samples from the state’s plant board. The plant board received seeds from different seed dealers and farmers, and it performed germination and purity tests as part of its regulatory activity. Darryl Little (defendant), the director of the plant board, denied Nolan’s request. In his denial, Little maintained that seed samples were not public records. Nolan challenged Little’s determination and filed a complaint in circuit court. At trial, Nolan testified that he was an agricultural lawyer who represented various seed companies. Nolan’s request was initiated on behalf of his clients who were attempting to eliminate the illegal reproduction and sale of their seeds. A representative of the plant board also testified at trial and explained the testing procedure for seed samples. The representative described how the data from the seed samples was compiled into analysis reports. The representative also stated that the analysis reports were subject to disclosure under the open-records law. Little also testified at trial, explaining that he provided Nolan with numerous records related to his open-records request; however, Little did not provide the seed samples because he did not believe they qualified as a public record. In support of his position, Little asserted that the seed samples were not a compilation of data or information, but rather a physical sample that was utilized to compile the analysis reports. Little also stated that releasing any portions of the seed samples would result in their depletion and that the plant board would no longer be able to use them. The trial court found in favor of Little, and Nolan filed an appeal. On appeal, Nolan maintained that under Arkansas’s open-records law, a public record was defined to include “writings, recordings, sounds, film, tapes, electronic or computer-based information, or data compilations in any medium required to be kept” and that the term medium had to be interpreted to include seed samples and the genetic information contained therein. Nolan further asserted that the rules of statutory construction required that the term medium be broadly defined. The court of appeals affirmed the circuit court’s determination, and Nolan again filed an appeal.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Dickey, C.J.)

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