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The Las Vegas Review-Journal v. Eighth Judicial District Court of State

Supreme Court of Nevada

February 27, 2018

THE LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL; AND THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, Petitioners,
v.
THE EIGHTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT 1 COURT OF THE STATE OF NEVADA, IN AND FOR THE COUNTY OF CLARK; AND THE HONORABLE RICHARD SCOTTI, DISTRICT JUDGE, Respondents, and VERONICA HARTFIELD, A NEVADA RESIDENT; ESTATE OF CHARLESTON HARTFIELD; AND CLARK COUNTY OFFICE OF THE CORONER/MEDICAL EXAMINER, Real Parties in Interest.

         Original petition for a writ of mandamus or prohibition challenging a district court order granting a preliminary injunction.

         Petition granted.

          McLetchie Shell LLC and Margaret A. McLetchie and Alina M. Shell, Las Vegas, for Petitioners.

          Steven B. Wolfson, District Attorney, and Laura C. Rehfeldt, Deputy District Attorney, Clark County, for Real Party in Interest Clark County Office of the Coroner/Medical Examiner.

          Sgro & Roger and Anthony P. Sgro and Eunice M. Beattie, Las Vegas, for Real Parties in Interest Veronica Hartfield and Estate of Charleston Hartfield.

          Randazza Legal Group, PLLC and Marc J. Randazza, Las Vegas, for Amici Curiae.

          BEFORE PICKERING, GIBBONS, and HARDESTY, JJ.

          OPINION

          Pickering, J.

         The district court enjoined the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Associated Press from reporting on a redacted, anonymized autopsy report that they and other members of the media obtained through a Nevada Public Records Act request. The question presented is whether the district court's preliminary injunction order comports with the First Amendment. We hold that it does not. While we are deeply sympathetic to the decedent's family's privacy concerns, the First Amendment does not permit a court to enjoin the press from reporting on a redacted autopsy report already in the public domain. We therefore grant the writ and vacate the preliminary injunction as an unconstitutional prior restraint.

         I.

         A.

         On the night of October 1, 2017, a gunman opened fire on a crowd of concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, killing 58 people and injuring hundreds more. Within days, members of the media, including petitioners Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Associated Press (collectively, the Review-Journal), asked the Clark County Coroner for access to the shooter's and his victims' autopsy reports pursuant to the Nevada Public Records Act (NPRA), NRS Ch. 239. The Coroner denied the media requests for the victims' autopsy reports, deeming them confidential. See NRS 239.010(1) (providing that confidential government records are not subject to public dissemination). On November 16, 2017, the Review-Journal filed suit against the Coroner under NRS 239.011, which gives a party who has been denied access to a public record the right to sue for an order requiring the government to provide a copy or permit inspection of it.

         The district judge assigned to the NPRA case heard argument on January 30, 2018, after full briefing. At the end of the hearing, he orally ruled that the autopsy reports constituted public records subject to inspection and release but directed the Coroner to redact the victims' names and personal identifying information, which the Review-Journal conceded was appropriate. The next day, January 31, 2018, the Coroner released the victims' autopsy reports "with the names, Coroner case number, age and race redacted, " emailing them first to the Review-Journal then, eight hours later, to the other news outlets that had requested them. The Review-Journal reported on the redacted autopsy reports immediately, Anita Hassan & Rachel Crosby, Coroner Releases Autopsy Reports of 58 Victims from Las Vegas Shooting, Las Vegas Review-Journal (Jan. 31, 2018, 4:50 p.m.), https://www.reviewjournal.com/crime/shootings/coroner-releases-autopsy-reports-of-58-victims-from-las-vegas-shooting, and other members of the press have done so since. See, e.g., Stephen Sorace, Las Vegas Shooting Victims' Info Released; Gunman's Data Excluded, Fox News (Feb. 1, 2018), http://www.foxnews.com/us/2018/02/01/las-vegas-shooting-victims-autopsy-info-released-gunmans-data-excluded.html; Fox 5 KWU-TV (Live news broadcast Feb. 1, 2018), http://w ww .fox5vegas. ...


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