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AG Derek Schmidt: Kansas Supreme Court clarifies scope of open records law

Release Date: Aug 27, 2018

TOPEKA – (August 27, 2018)  – In a first-of-its-kind decision, the Kansas Supreme Court on Friday decided that a corporation contracting with a county to operate a county hospital is an “instrumentality” of the county that is covered by the Kansas Open Records Act, Attorney General Derek Schmidt said today.

Bringing finality to a years-long legal dispute, the Supreme Court held that Great Plains of Kiowa County, Inc., which operates the Kiowa County Hospital in Greensburg, is a public agency subject to the Kansas Open Records Act (KORA). Schmidt said the outcome was not surprising but the legal reasoning adopted by the Court will be helpful in guiding the application of KORA in future situations. The case is the first time the Kansas appellate courts have interpreted a provision of the KORA that defines any “instrumentality” of a public agency to be a public agency itself.

“Great Plains meets the definition of an instrumentality of the county government, which is a political or taxing subdivision of the state,” the Supreme Court wrote. “Instead of managing the Hospital directly through an elected board, Kiowa County chose to have Great Plains manage the Hospital. Great Plains thus became the instrumentality for fulfilling the will of the voters of Kiowa County that they should have access to hospital facilities.”

All three courts that ruled on this case – the District Court, the Court of Appeals, and now the Supreme Court – reached the conclusion that records of Great Plains are public records that may be subject to disclosure. But their reasoning differed significantly. After the Court of Appeals arrived at that conclusion using a different rationale, the attorney general became involved in the case to ask the Supreme Court to clarify what legal rule should be applied in similar situations.

Schmidt said he was pleased with the outcome.

 “This decision will help give guidance in future disputes involving government instrumentalities, an area where judicial interpretation of the law had been absent,” Schmidt said. “The decision favors openness and transparency, and we appreciate the guidance from the Court, which confirms that our reading and application of the KORA has been correct.”

A copy of the decision is available at http://bit.ly/2MzE147.

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