FOI Oklahoma Inc. approves grant to support lawsuit seeking OU parking tickets

The FOI Oklahoma Inc. board of directors voted Sunday to award a $2,000 grant to help support a student member's Open Records Act lawsuit against the University of Oklahoma. Joey Stipek filed his lawsuit in May 2013 after OU officials claimed that student parking tickets are confidential education records under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA.

The grant to Stipek includes Joel Rabin and Sharon Hurst's repayment of $1,000 given by FOI Oklahoma in 2011 to help support their Open Meeting Act lawsuit against the Bartlesville Redevelopment Trust Authority.

Their lawsuit resulted in a state appellate court ruling in 2013 that Oklahomans can sue to enforce the Open Meeting Act without having to prove they were individually injured by the alleged violation. The case was remanded to the trial judge and remains pending. Even so, Rabin volunteered Sunday to repay the $1,000 to help FOI Oklahoma support Stipek's lawsuit.

State courts in Maryland and North Carolina have ruled that student parking citations are not education records protected by FERPA. Despite those decisions, officials at OU, Oklahoma State University and the University of Central Oklahoma have continued to make that claim.

OU officials had Stipek's lawsuit moved to federal court in Oklahoma City. An appeal of the trial judge's decision would go the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, whose ruling would be binding on schools in Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.

In May, a federal trial judge refused to dismiss Stipek's lawsuit. Chief Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange said that at that point in the litigation, it’s “plausible that parking citations and vehicle registrations are not educational records as defined by FERPA, and therefore, are subject to the (Oklahoma Open Records Act).”

Miles-LaGrange said Stipek’s lawsuit “contains sufficient factual matter for the Court to plausibly believe that (OU) is required to make available the requested records pursuant to the OORA.”

Stipek is being represented pro bono by attorneys Nicholas Harrison, an OU alumnus based in Washington D.C., and Kevin Taylor, based in Oklahoma City.

Harrison received FOI Oklahoma’s 2012 Ben Blackstock Award because of his reporting for The Oklahoma Daily as a University of Oklahoma law school student.

Rabin and Hurst received the 2014 Ben Blackstock Award. Their efforts also led to a change in the Open Meeting Act that lets plaintiffs collect attorney fees after successfully suing for violations of that statute.


Joey Senat, Ph.D. Associate Professor OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the commentators and do not necessarily represent the position of FOI Oklahoma Inc., its staff, or its board of directors. Differing interpretations of open government law and policy are welcome.