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Standing to Bring Action for Possible Violation of Public-Meeting Law

Public meeting laws require most meetings of administrative agencies to be held in public.  These laws are called Sunshine Laws as the intent is to create openness in governmental actions.  The purpose of Sunshine Laws is to eliminate secrecy around the actions and decisions on which public policy is based.  Exceptions to public meetings are made to ensure that, public officials are not unreasonably disturbed by having every discussion among public officials open to the public.  Hence under certain circumstances administrative body meetings can be held in executive, or closed session.

Any interested person can bring an action in court for violation of a public meeting law.  When members of an administrative agency commit a violation or threaten a violation of a public meeting law any person can move to court to stop, prevent or reverse the violation.  If a person is aggrieved by the administrative agency’s violation of public meeting law s/he can also approach the court for redressal of grievance.  In a wider sense, any person can move to the court to enforce a sunshine law.  The person need not be injured due to an official decision made in an unauthorized closed meeting.  Civic-minded citizens who go to the court to enforce public rights or prevent public wrongs done by administrative agencies violating the public meeting law are to be treated as public benefactors and not busybodies.

Basically any individual can petition a court to enforce a public meeting law.  They can seek injunctive and mandamus relief from the court against an administrative agency that violates the law[1].  However, only prosecutors such as the attorney general or the district or county attorney have standing to void governmental acts that violate public meeting laws[2].

In cases where a prosecutor does not bring an action, a relator can move to court as a private attorney general in the name and on the behalf of a state against violation of his/her rights and public’s rights by administrative agencies[3]. A relator is a person at whose relation or on whose behalf an application for mandamus is filed before the court.  A relator is only beneficially interested in the matter before the court.  Whenever a case for violation of a sunshine law is instituted by a relator, s/he can be paid attorney’s fees[4].

Resident corporations and unincorporated associations of residents can also petition  courst for violation of public meeting laws.  Media and news papers have an important role observing administrative agency’s actions and informing the general public about activities of government.  Publishers and members of media have standing before courst with respect to violation of public meeting laws.

[1] Krider v. Bd. of Trs. of Coffeyville Cmty. College, 277 Kan. 244 (Kan. 2004)

[2] Unified Sch. Dist. No. 446 v. Sandoval, 214 P.3d 1225 (Kan. Ct. App. 2009)

[3] State ex rel. Buswell v. Tomah Area Sch. Dist., 2007 WI 71 (Wis. 2007)

[4] State ex rel. Hodge v. Town of Turtle Lake, 180 Wis. 2d 62 (Wis. 1993)

Inside Standing to Bring Action for Possible Violation of Public-Meeting Law