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Supreme Court: NC Railroad isn’t subject to open records law

August 14, 2021 GMT

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The North Carolina Railroad Co., a nearly 175-year-old company now owned fully by the state, can withhold documents from the public because it isn’t subject to open records laws, the state Supreme Court has ruled.

A majority of justices upheld on Friday a lower court ruling that involved a 2019 lawsuit filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center against the railroad. The group wanted railroad records after a passenger rail project between Durham and Orange County fell apart, WRAL-TV reported.

Since 2006, state government has been the sole shareholder of the railroad, which owns 317 miles of rail from Charlotte to Morehead City. The private company was chartered in 1849. Its board is picked by the governor and General Assembly leadership.

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Associate Justice Sam Ervin, writing the 5-2 majority opinion, said while the state “does exert a considerable degree of control over the railroad, it primarily exercises this authority in its capacity as the railroad’s sole shareholder rather than in its capacity as a sovereign,” Ervin wrote.

The railroad is not subject to the open records law because the legislature and other governmental entities have “consistently treated the railroad as a private corporation.”

In the dissenting opinion, Associate Justice Anita Earls said the majority’s decision “runs contrary to the purpose of the (Public Records Act) and privileges the form of the corporation over the public nature of its governance and activities.”

“The legislature’s intent was for the Public Records Act to make more, not less, of our government’s activities and operations available for public examination,” Earls wrote.