McKitrick v. Gibson

August 20, 2021

Utah Supreme Court

2021 UT 48 (click for full text of opinion)

In this government records appeal case, the Utah Supreme Court held that a statutory claimant must have statutory standing, and the presence of traditional or alternative standing will not cure a statutory deficiency. (The Court’s holding in this case likely has relevant application to other statutory standing processes found elsewhere in Utah Code, such as those found for land use appeals under either the Municipal or County Land Use Development and Management Acts (LUDMA).)

In 2017, a Weber County Commissioner (Gibson) was accused of misusing public resources, but following an investigation by the Ogden Police Department, the County declined to formally bring charges against him. McKitrick thereafter filed a records request under the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA), seeking the contents and findings of the police investigation. Gibson objected, and the City denied the request.

McKitrick filed an appeal to the City’s Review Board, a local appeals board established by Ogden City as authorized by GRAMA. Ogden City was named the respondent in the appeal. Following a hearing, the Review Board reversed the denial and ordered release of the records. The City chose not to appeal the decision, and as the prevailing party, McKitrick also did not appeal. However, Gibson, who was not a named party in the appeal, filed a petition for judicial review. McKitrick intervened and moved the court to dismiss Gibson’s complaint, claiming he lacked standing under GRAMA as neither a “political subdivision” or a “requester”. The district court concluded that, in light of ambiguities in GRAMA, Gibson had standing for having asserted a privacy interest in the records, and denied the motion to dismiss. McKitrick appealed the district court’s decision to deny his dismissal.

The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Utah Legislature had established the process for appellate review of government entities’ GRAMA-related decisions, and that the statute was not ambiguous, but by its plain language, did not include any grant of standing to a party that was neither a political subdivision or “requester” of records. The court reasoned that while it is true that GRAMA recognizes the importance of both the public’s right of access to information concerning the conduct of the public’s business and the right of privacy in relation to personal data gathered by governmental entities, this recognition does not amount to a grant of standing. And while Gibson may have alleged traditional or alternative standing under Utah caselaw, a statutory claimant may not overcome a lack of statutory standing by satisfying the elements of some other doctrine of standing.