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TN Court of Appeals rules in favor of PLN in public records suit against CCA

Tennessean, Jan. 1, 2009.
TN Court of Appeals rules in favor of PLN in public records suit against CCA - Tennessean 2009

August 7, 2009

Tennessee appeals court rules that public records laws apply to CCA

By Kate Howard

Prisons run by Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America perform a government function and must follow public records laws, the Tennessee Court of Appeals has ruled.

The prison giant appealed the ruling issued last year by Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman, who ruled that the corporation was the functional equivalent of government and that its administrators must turn over all records requested by prison reform advocate Alex Friedmann.

Friedmann, the associate editor of the monthly publication Prison Legal News, sued for access to several types of records, including CCA's government contracts, legal settlements and cases where CCA was sanctioned or fined.

"With all due respect to CCA, this court is at a loss as to how operating a prison could be considered anything less than a governmental function," Judge D. Michael Swiney wrote in the opinion. But the court also reversed Bonnyman's order that the company produce all the records, though, saying that the Private Prison Contracting Act limits the records the country's largest private prison corporation must make public.

CCA spokesman Steve Owen said in an e-mail that the company is still "reviewing the decision to determine its full impact."

Friedmann said he is pleased with the ruling, although it's mixed.

"The main issue we did prevail on, and that CCA argued very hard at, was whether CCA was the functional equivalent of a state agency," Friedmann said. "Their argument against that was blatantly frivolous."

He said he has not consulted yet with his attorney but plans to submit another public records request to the company in light of the ruling. They are considering whether to challenge parts of the decision.

Corrections Corporation of America operates 60 facilities worldwide, including the Metro-Davidson County Detention Facility off Harding Place.