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Sierra Club v. Superior Court (County of Orange)

Supreme Court of California

July 8, 2013

SIERRA CLUB, Petitioner,
v.
THE SUPERIOR COURT OF ORANGE COUNTY, Respondent; COUNTY OF ORANGE, Real Party in Interest.

Ct.App. 4/3 G044138, Superior County Orange James Di Cesare Judge Ct. No. 134941

Venkus & Associates, Sabrina D. Venkus and Dean Wallraff for Petitioner.

Holme Roberts & Owen, Bryan Cave, Rachel Matteo-Boehm, Katherine Keating and Leila Knox for Media and Open Government, First Amendment Coalition, Freedom Communications, Inc., Publisher of the Orange County Register, Los Angeles Times Communications LLC, The Associated Press, Bay Area News Group, Bloomberg News, Courthouse News Service, Gannett Co., Inc., Hearst Corporation, Lee Enterprises, Incorporated, The McClatchy Company, Patch Media Corporation, The San Francisco Examiner, Wired, American Society of News Editors, Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, California Newspaper Publishers Association, Digital Media Law Project, Citizen Media Law Project, Electronic Frontier Foundation, First Amendment Coalition of Arizona, National Freedom of Information Coalition, Openthegovernment.org, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and Society of Professional Journalists as Amici Curiae on behalf of Petitioner.

M. Rhead Enion for Academic Researchers in Public Health, Urban Planning and Environmental Justice as Amici Curiae on behalf of Petitioner.

Jack Cohen as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Petitioner.

Otten & Joyce, Victor J. Otten and Brigid Joyce for 212 GIS Professionals and 23 GIS Organizations as Amici Curiae on behalf of Petitioner.

Meyer, Klipper & Mohr, Christopher A. Mohr, Michael R. Klipper, Colby F. Block; Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass, Jeffrey G. Knowles and Julia D. Greer for Consumer Data Industry Association, Corelogic, LexisNexis, The National Association of Professional Background Screeners and the Software & Information Industry Association as Amici Curiae on behalf of Petitioner.

Stanford Environmental Law Clinic, Deborah A. Sivas, Alicia E. Thesing, Leah J. Russin, Matthew H. Armsby and Margaret Brennan for Advocates for the Environment as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Petitioner.

Mark Rumold for Electronic Frontier Foundation as Amici Curiae on behalf of Petitioner.

Michel & Associates and C. D. Michel for the Geographic Information Systems Community as Amici Curiae on behalf of Petitioner.

Law Offices of Michael W. Stamp, Michael W. Stamp and Molly Erickson for The Open Monterey Project as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Petitioner.

No appearance for Respondent.

Nicholas S. Chrisos, County Counsel, Mark D. Servino, Rebecca S. Leeds and Karen L. Christensen, Deputy County Counsel, for Real Party in Interest.

Richards, Watson & Gershon and Ginetta L. Giovinco for California Assessors’ Association as Amicus Curiae on Behalf of Real Party in Interest.

Best Best & Krieger, Shawn Hagerty and Rebecca Andrews for League of California Cities and California State Association of Counties as Amici Curiae on Behalf of Real Party in Interest.

WE CONCUR: CANTIL-Sakauye, C. J., Kennard, J., Baxter, J., Werdegar, J., Chin, J., CORRIGAN, J.

LIU, Judge.

Like many counties in California, Orange County (the County) maintains a large database of information about land parcels in a geographic information system (GIS) file format. With this database, called the OC Landbase, a user with appropriate software can create a layered digital map containing information for over 640, 000 specific parcels of land in Orange County, including geographic boundaries, assessor parcel numbers, street addresses, and links to additional information on the parcel owners. The issue in this case is whether the OC Landbase is subject to disclosure in a GIS file format at the actual cost of duplication under the California Public Records Act or whether, as the County contends, it is covered by the statute’s exclusion of “[c]omputer software” (Gov. Code, § 6254.9, subd. (a)) — a term that “includes computer mapping systems” (id., § 6254.9, subd. (b)) — from the definition of a public record. We hold that although GIS mapping software falls within the ambit of this statutory exclusion, a GIS-formatted database like the OC Landbase does not. Accordingly, such databases are public records that, unless otherwise exempt, must be produced upon request at the actual cost of duplication.

I.

In June 2007, petitioner Sierra Club sent a letter to the Orange County Assessor requesting a copy of the OC Landbase pursuant to the California Public Records Act (PRA). Amici curiae representing a variety of media and open-government groups explain the functionality and value of the database at issue: “Using software available on the open market and the GIS-formatted landbase that is at issue in this case, any interested person can layer other publicly available electronic datasets on top of the landbase and perform a computer-assisted analysis of those datasets in ways that are simply not possible without the base layer.... [¶] For example... a property owner can use GIS-formatted landbase data to locate other similar parcels and see whether [the owner’s] taxes are higher or lower than those being paid by others, or to determine whether zoning decisions are similar as to comparable properties, which in turn can shed light on the fairness of a government’s taxing or zoning decisions.... [P]ublic dissemination of GIS-formatted mapping data is also critical to the non-profit sector’s ability to monitor and respond to government actions involving real property. For example, Petitioner Sierra ...


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