Q&A: Letter and threat of litigation

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From The Herald Republican (Angola):

Q: I have a letter from a local attorney to the Angola city attorney concerning a proposed strip club that is trying to open in Angola. In the first paragraph, the letter says an attorney would like to meet with another attorney “to discuss the possibility of informally resolving the zoning and ordinance issues so that federal court litigation will not be required.”

Does this constitute an official threat of litigation? If this does end up a federal case, does a party that intends to sue a municipality have to go through the notice of tort claim procedure, or is that just for cases through the state courts? 

A: The language seems to infer that litigation will be filed if the zoning and ordinance issues aren’t “resolved.” This threat is in writing to the attorney representing the city, so the council could hold an executive session to discuss potential litigation. That would be for strategic purposes and couldn’t include the other side’s attorney.

What the letter suggests though is a meeting of two attorneys. This meeting – so the attorneys can discuss the issues and potential ways to resolve the dispute – would not be prohibited under the Access to Public Records Act.

As to the tort claim question, you’re moving outside my area of expertise. I suggest you touch base with an attorney for the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns or the legal department of the state attorney general.

Contact Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, with media law questions at skey@hspa.com or (317) 624-4427.

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