Los Angeles—The Los Angeles Superior Court has ordered the multi-billion dollar Canadian-based bus manufacturer New Flyer Industries Inc. to pay public interest organization Jobs to Move America $170,000 in attorney’s fees.
This is the latest development in a court battle between the two groups. In May 2016, New Flyer sued Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) to block the release of public documents showing the details of their compliance with job-creation commitments made in a 2013 half a billion dollar contract after JMA requested the information under the California Public Records Act. The company argued that information about job commitments made to obtain the lucrative contract was a “trade secret.”
The company ultimately lost, but according to experts, reverse public records act or FOIA lawsuits are becoming increasingly common across the US as public agencies contract with large private companies to support public work.
The attorney’s fees award – which was made based on the California Private Attorney General law – is believed to be the first of its kind to a public-interest group in a reverse-Public Records Act action. In a 30 page decision, Judge Mary Strobel found that JMA’s successful intervention in the lawsuit, “conferred a significant benefit on the general public or a large class of persons,” and thus took the unusual step of requiring New Flyer to pay JMA $170,000 in attorney’s fees.
“It’s a good day for taxpayers and members of the public interested in fair and open government. After this decision, companies will think twice before attempting to hide information from the public. New Flyer and other global corporations need to be held responsible for the promises they make to our communities. Being transparent and ensuring we are able to get these records is one of the most important ways to hold them accountable,” said Madeline Janis, JMA’s executive director.
The organization is now reviewing the documents and quarterly reports obtained from LA Metro to confirm whether New Flyer complied with job creation commitments in its 2013 contract.