Seacoast Newspapers v. Rye Police, Doc. No. 218-2010-CV-464 (Rockingham Super. Ct., July 7, 2010) (Smukler, J.)

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Seacoast Newspapers, Inc.


Rye New Hampshire Police Department

No. 218-2010-CV-00464


The petitioner, Seacoast Newspapers, Inc, filed a petition for disclosure of records relating to two drive-by shootings in Rye, New Hampshire seeking disclosure of certain records of the respondent, the Rye Police Department pursuant to RSA 91-A--the New Hampshire right-to-know law. Specifically, the petitioner seeks records pertaining to the investigation of two incidents where bullets were fired at the homes of Rye residents: one on August 24, 2007 and the other on June 19, 2009. The respondent objects. The court convened a hearing this day. Both parties appeared. Because the respondent has sustained its burden of showing that disclosure could reasonably be expected to interfere with its investigation of these incidents, the petitioner's request for such disclosure is DENIED.

"Openness in the conduct of public business is essential to a democratic society. The purpose of [the right-to-know law] is to ensure both the greatest possible public access to the actions, discussions and records of all public bodies, and their accountability to the people." RSA 91-A:I (Preamble). "While the statute does not provide for unrestricted access to public records, [the court] resolve[s] questions regarding the Right-to-Know Law with a view to providing the utmost information in order to best effectuate the statutory and constitutional objective of facilitating access to all public documents. Therefore, [the court] construe[s] provisions favoring disclosure [2] broadly, while construing exemptions narrowly. Murray v. N.H. Div. of State Police, 154 N.H. 579, 581 (2006) (citations omitted). Thus, it is the respondent that bears the burden of showing why the requested material should not be disclosed. Here, the respondent relies upon an exemption to the disclosure requirement; specifically, the exemption for police investigative files. See Lodge v. Knowlton, 118 N.H. 574 (1978).

In order to meet its burden, the respondent requested an opportunity to make an ex parte argument and to allow the court to conduct an in camera review of the requested records. The petitioner did not object to this procedure. Accordingly, the court heard ex parte argument in chambers. The ex parte process took place on the record. The record is SEALED. Thereafter, the court conducted an in camera review.

Based on the representations made during the ex parte hearing in combination with the in camera review of the subject materials, the court finds and rules that the respondent has sustained its burden of showing that the records are investigatory and compiled for law enforcement purposes. Murray v. N.H. Div. of State Police, 154 N.H. at 582. The respondent has also satisfied its additional burden of showing that disclosure "could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings." Id., quoting 5 U.S.C. ยง 552 (b)(7) (Freedom of Information Act). In particular, the court is satisfied that the investigation into both separate incidents is ongoing and active. The incidents both involve serious crimes. Disclosure of the investigative files at this time would present a substantial risk of compromising the ability of the respondent to bring these ongoing investigations to successful conclusions. Accordingly, Prayer B of the petition for disclosure of records relating to two drive-by shootings in Rye, New Hampshire is DENIED.

The court emphasizes that its ruling is based on the serious risk of compromising an ongoing investigation at this particular stage in the process. Of necessity, this analysis involves [3] looking at the situation as it exists during this snapshot of time. There are a wide variety of potential contingencies that would affect the court's analysis, ranging from the arrest of an accused to the abandonment of the investigation. Thus, this order is without prejudice to a renewed petition based on changed circumstances.


Date: July 7, 2010    /s/