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Rick Curtis v. Utah State Child Support Guidelines Advisory Committee Complaint

25 June 2002 Published in Litigation Materials

JANELLE P. EURICK (#8801)
American Civil Liberties Union
of Utah Foundation, Inc.
355 North 300 West, Suite 1
Salt Lake City, Utah 84103
Telephone: (801) 521-9862

Attorney for Plaintiffs

IN THE THIRD JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT
SALT LAKE COUNTY, STATE OF UTAH

COMPLAINT

Case No. 020906936
Judge: Lewis

RICK CURTIS; FOCUS an unincorporated association, Plaintiffs,

v.

UTAH STATE CHILD SUPPORT GUIDELINES ADVISORY COMMITTEE; TRACEY FINDLEY; MICHAEL D. LYON; RANDALL K. FIELDS; KEN D. PILON; STEWART P. RALPHS; JESSIE X. FAN, HELEN E. CHRISTIAN; THOMAS N. MALONEY; DIANNA MCDOWELL; BRAD LINNELL; and MARK BRASHER, Defendants.

Plaintiffs, by and through their attorney, hereby allege and complain as follows:

NATURE OF ACTION

1. This is an action pursuant to the Utah Open and Public Meetings Act, Utah Code Ann. § 52-4-1 et seq. In enacting that law, the Legislature declared that state agencies exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business, and that it is the intent of the law to ensure that their actions and deliberations be taken openly, that records be kept of all open meetings, and that attendees of such meetings are able to make recordings of the meetings. Plaintiffs bring this action to preserve and protect the legitimacy of governmental institutions and practices in the State of Utah by ensuring that the people’s business be conducted openly and that public officials act in compliance with law when they discuss, take positions, and make recommendations or final decisions on matters of significant public interest.

PARTIES

2. Plaintiff Rick Curtis is a taxpayer and resident of Salt Lake County, Utah, and a member of FOCUS, an organization representing divorced parents rights in child custody matters. Mr. Curtis has attended and been denied the right to videotape the last three public meetings of the Utah State Child Support Guidelines Advisory Committee. Mr. Curtis has an interest in having video recordings of the Committee’s meetings to allow viewing of the meetings by members of his organization who cannot attend. Mr. Curtis also would like videotapes of the meetings to allow members of FOCUS to develop accurate comments and to gain a meaningful opportunity to participate in meetings of the Committee concerning child support guidelines. Mr. Curtis is a "person" under the Open and Public Meetings Act for the purpose of maintaining this lawsuit under Utah Code Ann. § 52-4-9(2).

3. Plaintiff FOCUS is an organization currently pending classification as an incorporated association. FOCUS represents the rights of divorced parents on a variety of issues that affect child custody in Utah. FOCUS and member Rick Curtis have been denied the right to videotape the Child Support Guidelines Advisory Committee meetings during the last three meetings. FOCUS and its members previously videotaped the meetings without incident. FOCUS is a "person" under the Open and Public Meetings Act for the purpose of maintaining this lawsuit under Utah Code Ann. § 52-4-9(2).

4. The Child Support Guidelines Advisory Committee (the "Committee"), is a committee appointed by the Governor under Utah Code Ann. § 78-45-7.13(1). The Committee reviews the state’s "child support guidelines to ensure their application results in the determination of appropriate child support award amounts," Utah Code Ann. § 78-45-7.13(4)(a). The Committee makes group and individual recommendations to the Legislative Judiciary Interim Committee. Utah Code Ann. § 78-45-7.13(4)(b)-(c). The Committee is a "public body" within the meaning of Utah Code Ann § 52-4-2(3).

5. The individual defendants Tracey Findley, Michael D. Lyon, Randall K. Fields, Ken D. Pilon, Stewart P. Ralphs, Jessie X. Fan, Helen E. Christian, Thomas N. Maloney, DiAnna McDowell, Brad Linnell, and Mark Brasher are all members of the Committee and were appointed to the Committee by the Governor. The individual members are sued in their official capacity.

JURISDICTION AND VENUE

6. This Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to Utah Code Ann. §§ 52-4-9(2) and 78-3-4.

7. Venue is proper in this Court pursuant to Utah Code Ann. §§ 78-13-2- and -7 in that the cause of action arose in Salt Lake City and the Commission’s principal office is in Salt Lake County.

GENERAL ALLEGATIONS

8. On or about May 6, 2002 the Child Support Guidelines Advisory Committee voted not to allow videotaping during their meetings. Mr. Stewart P. Ralphs, a member of the Child Support Guidelines Advisory Committee, stated that the vote took place because the Committee had a choice whether to allow videotaping. Prior to this meeting, members of Focus commonly videotaped every meeting of the Committee. Rick Curtis was prohibited from videotaping the meeting of May 6, 2002.

9. On June 3, 2002 Mr. Curtis and Focus were denied the right to videotape the Committee meeting. That day, Mr. Curtis contacted the Governor’s office who informed him that their office thought videotaping was an appropriate way to record public meetings.

10. On July 1, 2002, at a Committee meeting Mr. Curtis was again told by Mr. Ralphs that certain members of the Committee were uncomfortable being videotaped and instructed Mr. Curtis that he would need a court order if he wanted the videotape the meetings.

11. All three of the meetings, May 6, 2002, June 3, 2002, and July 1, 2002, constituted "meetings" within the meaning of Utah Code Ann. § 52-4-2, and should have been open to the public pursuant to Utah Code Ann. § 52-4-3. On information and belief, the Committee did not close (nor could it properly have closed) any of the meetings pursuant to Utah Code Ann. §§ 52-4-4. Utah Code Ann. § 52-4-7(4) allows any "person" the right to "record" open meetings as long as the recording does not interfere with the conduct of the meeting. On information and belief, the Committee did not find that Mr. Curtis’ attempts to videotape the meetings interfered with the conduct of the meetings and therefore did not comply with the Utah Open and Public Meetings Act when denying Mr. Curtis and Focus the right to videotape.

12. Plaintiffs have incurred attorney fees and court costs in pursuit of this matter.

CAUSE OF ACTION
(Violation of Utah Code Ann. § 52-4-7(4))

13. Plaintiffs incorporate herein by this reference paragraphs 1 through 11 as if set forth fully herein.

14. Defendants held meetings on May 6, 2002, June 3, 2002 and July 1, 2002, at which they refused to allow plaintiff, Rick Curtis, to videotape the proceedings. Defendants had no legal reason to prohibit videotaping as is permitted under Utah Code Ann. § 52-4-7(4).

15. Based upon Defendants’ acts alleged Plaintiffs are entitled to declaratory and injunctive relief and to recover their attorney’s fees and costs.

Wherefore, Plaintiffs pray for relief as follows:

a. For declaratory judgment that the actions of Defendants in not allowing the Plaintiff to record the May 6, 2002, June 3, 2002 or July 1, 2002 meetings were in violation of the law;

b. For immediate injunctive relief prohibiting Defendants from further violating any and all of the provisions of the Utah Open and Public Meetings Act, and ordering that Plaintiffs Curtis and FOCUS is permitted to videotape the meetings of the Committee in conformance with the Utah Open and Public Meetings Act; and

c. For Plaintiffs’ reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs in pursuing this action; and

d. For such other and further relief as the Court deems just and proper.

DATED this 26 day of July 2002.

By Janelle P. Eurick
Attorney for Plaintiffs