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Roane v. Archuleta.

No. 22CA0204. 2022 COA 143. Colorado Open Records Act—Public Records Request—Allowance or Denial of Inspection—Disclosure and Discovery.

December 15, 2022

Roane filed a declaratory judgment action against the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners (Board) for its alleged violation of Colorado’s open meetings statute. The declaratory judgment case was subject to CRCP 16.1, which requires parties to make specified disclosures and allows limited discovery. The parties neither exchanged disclosures nor propounded discovery requests but filed cross-motions for summary judgment. While the motions were pending, Roane submitted a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) records request to Archuleta in her capacity as the Board’s records custodian seeking, as relevant here, a recording of a public Board meeting (the recording). Archuleta denied Roane’s request, asserting that the recording was not open to inspection. Roane then filed a separate action against Archuleta under CORA to obtain an order requiring her to make the recording available for his inspection. The court ordered Archuleta to make the recording available to Roane.

On appeal, Archuleta argued that the court’s inspection order is contrary to law because an individual litigating against a public entity is barred from using CORA to obtain relevant documents from that entity. However, CORA does not expressly bar individuals from obtaining public records from entities against which they are litigating, and it does not prevent litigants from using CORA to obtain public records for use in a pending suit against the producing entity; rather, CORA only prevents the requesting party from recovering attorney fees and costs if that party could also have obtained the subject documents through discovery. In addition, CORA is consistent with other states’ interpretations of their open records laws in cases with facts similar to those presented here. Further, Archuleta’s argument is unsupported by (1) relevant Colorado case law; (2) Colo. Op. Att’y Gen. No. 01-1 (July 5, 2001), which supports the determination that CORA generally allows civil litigants to access public records from a public entity that is an adverse party; and (3) US Supreme Court decisions, which do not prohibit using an open records act request to obtain documents from a public entity against which the party is litigating. Further, the inspection order is not inconsistent with public policy and does not violate the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure applicable to document requests. Accordingly, the district court correctly ordered Archuleta to provide the recording to Roane.

The inspection order was affirmed.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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