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Hackman v. Kolbet

Court of Appeals of Iowa

July 19, 2017

JACOB HACKMAN, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
SUELLEN KOLBET, As Custodian for the NEW HAMPTON MUNICIPAL LIGHT PLANT, Defendant-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Chickasaw County, David P. Odekirk, Judge.

         The plaintiff appeals the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant.

          David H. Skilton of Cronin, Skilton & Skilton, P.L.L.C., Charles City, for appellant.

          Jennifer L. Schwickerath of Elwood, O'Donohoe, Braun & White, L.L.P., New Hampton, for appellee.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Potterfield and Bower, JJ.

          POTTERFIELD, JUDGE.

         Jacob Hackman appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of New Hampton Municipal Light Plant (the Plant) authorizing the Plant to collect various fees to fulfill an open records request. Hackman argues he was charged for the Plant's attorney fees, which are not authorized by statute. We affirm.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

         Hackman requested records from the Plant on November 21, 2012. Hackman's request included the following: "copies of all e-mails to and from the City Clerk to any New Hampton Municipal Light Plant Board Member or New Hampton Municipal Light Plant employee from May 16, 2012, to present"; the audio and agenda for multiple meetings; copies of insurance policies; and "all file indexes or dictations made from July 2012 to present."

         On December 17, 2012, counsel for the Plant sent a partial response to Hackman's request, and the full response was fulfilled on December 26, 2012. The Plant sent an invoice for $828.30[1] in expenses related to Hackman's request. The bill included 21.75 hours of fees at $35 per hour for the following services: reviewing emails; redacting emails; copying records; corresponding with opposing counsel regarding the records request; and compiling records. The bill also included $75.80 for copies.

         Based on the Plant's written policy, the rate to fulfill open records request was "[c]opies at $.20 per copy . . . research-first 15 minutes at no charge, then $35 per hour thereafter."

         On June 5, 2013, Hackman filed a petition for declaratory judgment, arguing the fees charged in response to the open records request were attorney fees, which were not authorized by statute. Because Hackman originally filed the petition under an unrelated wrongful-termination action, the trial court allowed Hackman to amend the petition, creating a new, separate action. The Plant presented counterclaims against Hackman for the balance of the outstanding bill from Hackman's request.

         On August 26, 2016, the Plant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing there is no genuine issue of material fact and the Plant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because Iowa Code section 22.3 (2013) and the Plant's written fee policy authorized the fees. The motion included an affidavit from Suellen Kolbet, city clerk of New Hampton, Iowa. The affidavit verified the Plant's fee schedule for records requests and defined the term "research" as a "general term we use to mean the time it takes to comply with the request." The affidavit stated the request contained "a large amount of emails, some of which contained statutorily protected confidential information." The affidavit also outlined the process in which Kolbet would forward emails subject to the record request to New Hampton's attorney, Jennifer L. Schwickerat, in order to "interpret the appropriate statutes and redact the statutorily protected information from the emails."

         Hackman resisted, arguing the fees were actually attorney fees that are not authorized by statute. On November 16, 2016, the trial court issued an order for judgment against Hackman for ...


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