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Lexisnexis Risk Data Management Inc. v. North Carolina Administrative Office of Courts

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

February 18, 2014

LEXISNEXIS RISK DATA MANAGEMENT INC., a Florida Corporation, and Lexisnexis Risk Solutions Inc., a Georgia Corporation, Plaintiffs,
v.
NORTH CAROLINA ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF the COURTS; John W. Smith II, in his official capacity as the Director of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts; and Nancy Lorrin Freeman, in her official capacity as the Clerk of the Wake County Superior Court, Defendants.

Heard in the Court of Appeals 24 October 2013.

Page 224

Appeal by Plaintiffs from order entered 8 February 2013 by Judge James E. Hardin, Jr., in Wake County Superior Court.

Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP, Raleigh, by Reed J. Hollander, and Meyer, Klipper & Mohr, PLLC, by Christopher A. Mohr, for Plaintiffs.

Attorney General Roy Cooper, by Special Deputy Attorney General Grady L. Balentine, Jr., for Defendants.

Arnall Golden Gregory LLP, by W. Jerad Rissler, for amicus curiae Consumer Data Industry Association.

Stevens Martin Vaughn & Tadych, PLLC, Raleigh, by Hugh Stevens, for amici curiae The News and Observer Publishing Co.; Capitol Broadcasting Company, Inc.; Time-Warner Entertainment-Advance Newhouse Partnership; DTH Media Corp.; and the North Carolina Press Foundation, Inc.

Page 225

STEPHENS, Judge.

Procedural History and Factual Background

This appeal raises the issue of whether the Automated Criminal/Infraction System database (" ACIS" ) is subject to public disclosure under the North Carolina Public Records Act, N.C. Gen.Stat. § 132-1 et seq. (" the Act" ). In its order dismissing the matter on the pleadings, the trial court summarized the factual background of the case as follows:

1. The parties agree there are no facts in dispute and the matter before the [trial c]ourt is a question of law.
2. Plaintiffs' corporations [ (collectively " Lexis" ) ], which aggregate information from a variety of public sources, load and operate databases, and offer information services to government and private sector clients, bring this action pursuant to the Public Records Act.
3. Defendant Administrative Office of the Courts [ (" the AOC" ) ] administers, supports, and maintains [ACIS] for the elected [c]lerks of [s]uperior [c]ourt for the 100 counties of the State of North Carolina for use as the electronic storage index of their criminal records.
4. ACIS is a real-time criminal records database that is a compilation of the criminal court records, including records subject to disclosure and records not subject to disclosure, of the 100 [c]lerks of [s]uperior [c]ourt.
5. The various [c]lerks of [s]uperior [c]ourt enter the information contained in the database in real time from the physical records contained in each of their respective offices.[1] As such, the compilation of records stored in ACIS is constantly changing. The information in the database is exactly what is entered by the [c]lerks of [s]uperior [c]ourt, and changes to the information are made by the various [c]lerks accordingly. Not every employee in each [c]lerk of [s]uperior [c]ourt's office can access all of the information in ACIS, nor can one [c]lerk of [s]uperior [c]ourt access the records for modification of another [c]lerk.
6. Clerks of [s]uperior [c]ourt have the ability to make electronic and paper copies of criminal records information they enter in the ACIS database that is subject to disclosure, and they routinely make such records available pursuant to public records requests. None of the 100 [c]lerks of [s]uperior [c]ourt has the ability to make an electronic copy of the entire ACIS database.
7. Criminal records information contained in the ACIS database that is subject to disclosure is made available by [the] AOC to the public via remote public access and extracts of certain information in the ACIS database is also made available by [the] AOC to private vendors pursuant to agreements entered into between them and [the] AOC under N.C. Gen.Stat. § 7A-109. [The] AOC also makes criminal records information contained in the ...

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