Kirwan v. The Diamondback

In 1996, The Diamondback, a student newspaper at the University of Maryland, requested public records from the University after the paper started investigating parking tickets given to a student-athlete after learning that a men’s basketball player had accumulated several thousand in unpaid fines. The Diamondback requested correspondence between the university and the National Collegiate Athletic Association, campus parking violations by men’s basketball athletes, as well as parking violations by the head men’s basketball coach, Gary Williams. The Diamondback presented their case to the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County after the University denied the public records requests, saying the records relating to student-athletes were protected by FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The university said records involving tickets were confidential financial records and that any parking tickets given to Williams were confidential personnel records. The Circuit Court granted The Diamondback access to the documents, ruling the records were not protected under FERPA or state records law exemptions for financial records or personnel files.The University decided to appeal to the state’s Court of Special Appeals. In September 1997, the appeals court upheld the trial court’s ruling that Williams’ parking tickets were not personnel records because they do not relate to the “hiring, discipline, promotion, dismissal, or any matter involving his status as an employee.” The Court also upheld the trial court’s finding that the documents related to student-athletes were not protected by FERPA because they “are nonacademic in nature and do not contain educationally related information, such as grades or other academic data, and are unrelated to academic performance, financial aid, or scholastic performance.”