Media Law Handbook

Open Meetings


9. What is the Federal Government in the Sunshine Act?
7. What are other important features of the Open Meetings Law?

8. How is the Open Meetings Law enforced?

It is up to the public and the media to enforce the law by filing lawsuits in Superior Court. Although one attorney general’s opinion alludes to the possibility that there might be criminal penalties for a public officer who willfully persists in violating the Open Meetings Law, the statute itself does not provide any criminal sanction.[63] The statute sets out two methods for its enforcement: an injunction prohibiting future violations[64] and an order invalidating any action taken or considered in violation of the law.[65] Under the law, actions to enforce the Open Meetings Law are given priority on the court’s calendar.[66] 

Injunction. Any person may sue to enjoin a threatened violation or the recurrence of a past violation.[67] If a violation is proven, the injunction must describe the violation and prohibit its recurrence.[68] If the conduct does recur, that would be contempt of court and expose the public officials involved to substantial fines. 

Invalidation. Any person may sue a public body seeking the invalidation of any action “taken, considered, discussed, or deliberated” in violation of the act.[69] (Acts or resolutions of the General Assembly, however, may not be invalidated because of an open-meetings violation.) If a violation is found, it is within the judge’s discretion to invalidate the tainted action. In making that decision, the judge is to consider the effect of the violation on the substance of the action, the effect of the violation on preventing public access to or understanding of the public body’s proceedings, the effect of invalidation on third parties who might have relied on the action and whether the violation was isolated or part of a pattern or was made in bad faith.[70] Any lawsuit seeking to invalidate a public body’s action must be brought within a fairly short time after the action is taken — within 45 days after “initial disclosure” of the action.[71]  Initial disclosure is defined as the date of public availability of any minutes that record the action or, if there are no such minutes, the date the plaintiff knew or should have known of the action.

Attorney’s fees.  Under either type of enforcement action, the trial court is permitted to determine who — the plaintiff or the defendant public body — is the prevailing party and then to order the losing party to pay the reasonable attorney’s fees of the prevailing party.[72] The court may assess the fees against the non-compliant public official personally unless the public official solicited and followed the advice of counsel.



[63] 51 N.C. Opp. Atty. Gen. 79 (1982).

[64] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143.318.16.

[65] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143.318.16A.

[66] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143.318.16C.

[67] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143.318.16(a).

[68] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143.318.16(b).

[69] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143.318.16(a).

[70] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143.318.16A(c).

[71] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143.318.16A(b).

[72] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-318.16B; Free Spirit Aviation, Inc. v. Rutherford Airport Auth., 206 N.C.App. 192, 696 S.E.2d 559 (2010) (discussing award of attorneys fees to prevailing party under open meetings laws).

9. What is the Federal Government in the Sunshine Act?
7. What are other important features of the Open Meetings Law?

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