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Roane v. Elizabeth School District.

2024 COA 59. No. 23CA1969. Colorado Open Meetings Law—Standing—Injury in Fact—Legally Protected Interest.

May 23, 2024

Roane is an attorney whose niche legal practice involves reviewing meeting agendas, minutes, and recordings of local public bodies across the state for their Colorado Open Meetings Law (OML) compliance. If he perceives a potential OML violation, Roane sues the local public body as a pro se plaintiff. Roane has filed numerous OML-related actions, a majority of which have been directed against school districts. In the present case, Roane alleged that Elizabeth School District (school district) improperly announced an executive session during a public meeting on April 10, 2023. Roane asserted that during that meeting, the school district board of education members met in a private executive session to seek legal advice from their attorney in violation of CRS § 24-6-402(4), because the school district did not describe the particular matter it intended to discuss in the executive session. The school district moved to dismiss, contending that Roane lacked standing because he did not plead meaningful connections to the school district.

On interlocutory appeal, the school district argued that the district court improperly treated its motion to dismiss pursuant to CRCP 12(b)(1) as a motion for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(5). However, given the absence of a factual dispute and request for a hearing, the district court properly decided the motion under Rule 12(b)(1) as a question of law. Further, even if the court had erred, any error was harmless because the court of appeals reviews motions to dismiss de novo.

The school district also argued that the district court erred by concluding that Roane had standing to maintain his lawsuit under the OML, solely by virtue of being a Colorado citizen, because he did not suffer an injury in fact as a result of the claimed violation. CRS § 24-6-402(9)(a) creates a legally protected interest in favor of natural persons in Colorado to have public bodies conduct public business in compliance with the OML. And the OML doesn’t require plaintiffs to have a reason for seeking access to an open meeting, to prove their proximity or connection to the political subdivision that is holding the meeting, to explain an individual interest in the meeting topic, or to justify the purposes for which the impermissibly withheld information could have been used. Here, Roane alleged an informational injury resulting from the school district’s alleged lack of compliance with the OML. Consequently, Roane alleged a sufficient injury in fact to a legally protected interest to confer standing in this matter. Accordingly, the district court properly denied the motion to dismiss for lack of standing.

The order was affirmed.

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

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