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City of Los Angeles v. Superior Court (Cynthia Anderson-Barker)

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Seventh Division

March 2, 2017


          Filed Date: 3/20/17

         ORIGINAL PROCEEDINGS in mandate. Jane L. Johnson Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BS156058, Judge. Petition for writ of mandate granted in part.

          Michael Feuer, City Attorney, Carlos De La Guerra, Managing Assistant City Attorney, Debra L. Gonzales, Assistant City Attorney, Blithe Smith Bock and Gabriel L. Ruha, Deputy City Attorneys for Petitioner.

          Best Best & Krieger, Shawn Hagerty, Rebecca Andrews and Victoria Hester for The California State Association of Counties, as Amicus Curie on behalf of Petitioner.

          No appearance for Respondent.

          Donald Cook for Real Party in Interest.

          Davis Wright Tremaine, Kelli L. Sager, Dan Laidman and Thomas R. Burke for Los Angeles Times Communications, LLC, The McClatchy Company, Hearst Corporation, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Californians Aware, The California Newspaper Publishers Association, and The First Amendment Coalition, as Amicus Curia on behalf of Real Party in Interest.


         THE COURT:

         IT IS ORDERED that the opinion filed March 2, 2017 be corrected as follows:

         1. Page 1 Superior Court judge name is Joanne B. O'Donnell;

         2. Page 1 City Attorney name is Gabrielle L. Ruha;

         3. Page 6, last paragraph second line “who had represented Colleen Flynn”;

         4. Page 17, line 4, ‘[t]he legislative purpose of expediency and immediate reviewability... cannot be served by transforming a public record request into a drawn out discovery battle.” (Wilder v. Superior Court (1998) 66 Cal.App.4th 77, 84.)

         The petition for rehearing is denied. The foregoing does not change the judgment.

          ZELON, Acting P. J. SEGAL, J., KEENY, J. (Assigned)

          ZELON, Acting P. J.

         Real Party in Interest Cynthia Anderson-Barker filed a petition under the California Public Records Act (Gov. Code, §§ 6250, et seq., (CPRA)) to compel the City of Los Angeles to disclose electronically stored documents and data that contained information relating to vehicles impounded by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). The City argued that the requested materials did not qualify as “public records” because a private third party owned them.

         Prior to the hearing on the petition, Anderson-Barker propounded discovery requests seeking evidence regarding the City's claim that it did not own the materials. The City asserted a single objection to each discovery request contending that the Civil Discovery Act did not apply to actions brought under the CPRA. Anderson-Barker filed a motion to compel the City to provide further responses to her discovery. The trial court granted the motion, concluding that: (1) the Civil Discovery Act applied to CPRA proceedings; and (2) the City had waived any other objections to the discovery requests. The court ordered the City to respond to the discovery requests without any further objections, and imposed discovery sanctions in the amount of $5, 560.00.

         The City filed a petition for writ of mandate seeking an order directing the trial court to vacate its order, and enter a new order denying the motion to compel. We issued an order to show cause, and now grant the City's petition in part. Although we agree with the trial court's conclusion that the Civil Discovery Act applies to CPRA proceedings, we reverse the remainder of the order, and remand for further proceedings.


         A. Background Facts

         The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) uses privately owned companies to tow and store impounded vehicles.[1] These tow companies are referred to as “Official Police Garages” (OPGs), and perform their services pursuant to written contracts entered into with the City of Los Angeles. Although the City contracts separately with each OPG, the terms of the contracts are materially identical.

         Whenever a LAPD officer needs to impound a vehicle, he or she contacts an OPG to tow and store the vehicle. The LAPD officer is required to prepare a “CHP 180 form” that documents the vehicle seizure. The officer and the OPG each retain a portion of the CHP 180 form. The OPG is required to enter certain information regarding the impoundment into a database known as the “Vehicle Information Impound Center” (VIIC). The VIIC is maintained by the “Official Police Garage Association of Los Angles” (OPG-LA), a private organization comprised of tow companies that have OPG contracts with the City. The OPGs are also required to scan their portion of the CHP 180 form into “Laserfiche, ” an independent document storage company that OPG-LA contracts with to store OPG-related documents.

         B. Summary of Prior Litigation Seeking Disclosure of VIIC Data and Laserfiche Scans

         On March 10, 2014, Colleen Flynn submitted a written request to the LAPD seeking “the following electronically stored data: [(1)] All data recorded in [the VIIC] database. [(2)] All documents as scanned into Laserfiche regarding vehicle seizures....” Although Flynn's request acknowledged that the VIIC data and Laserfiche scans were “stored in systems maintained by [OPG-LA], ” she asserted that the materials qualified as “public records” because the City's “contracts” with OPG-LA and the OPGs provided it the right to “access and possess” the materials.

         The LAPD declined Flynn's request. In a letter, the LAPD explained that the materials Flynn had requested did not qualify as “public records” within the meaning of the CPRA because OPG-LA maintained the computer systems that stored the VIIC database and the Laserfiche scans. Although the LAPD admitted it had authority to “access” the VIIC data and Laserfiche scans “for the purpose of conducting necessary law enforcement investigations, ” it asserted that such access did not qualify as “ownership” of those materials, or otherwise transform the materials into public records. The LAPD further asserted that even if the requested materials qualified as public records, they were subject to numerous exemptions set forth in the CPRA.

         On March 27, 2014, Flynn's attorney, Donald Cook, filed a petition for writ of mandate pursuant to Government Code section 6258[2] seeking to compel the City of Los Angeles to disclose the VIIC data and the Laserfiche scans. The petition alleged that the materials qualified as “public records” under the CPRA, and that there was no “lawful or proper reason for [the City's] refusal to provide the records....” The City opposed the petition, asserting that it did not own the materials in question. The parties presented evidence in support of their respective positions, which included a declaration from LAPD detective Ben Jones and samples of contracts entered into between the OPGs and the City.

         In its briefing, Flynn argued that the following provision set forth in an attachment to the OPG contracts established that the City owned the VIIC data and the Laserfiche scans: “Unless otherwise provided for herein, all documents, materials, data and reports originated and prepared by CONTRACTOR under this contract shall be and remain the property of the City.” The City, however, argued that a separate provision set forth in section 14.3 of the OPG contracts clarified that the OPG was to “retain... the VIIC and Laserfiche records, ” and that the City was only permitted inspect the records for “purposes of audit... and law enforcement.” In the City's view, this language demonstrated that it did not own the materials, and was only allowed to access the information for limited purposes.

         The court agreed with the City, explaining that the provision Flynn had relied on provided the City ownership of all work product the OPGs had produced under their contracts with the City “‘unless otherwise provided for' in the OPG contract.” The court further explained that “[section] 14.3 meets the ‘otherwise provided for' requirement, thereby negating [the ownership provision set forth in the attachment provision].” The court also noted that the OPG contracts described the two circumstances under which the City ...

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