Accessing consumer complaint records
Q: I requested some records from AG California, after California reached a settlement with Bayer. The requested records pertained to the investigation of a medicine called Baycoland. AG California has denied my request on the ground that consumer complaints and confidential law enforcement records of the AG are exempt from disclosure to the public pursuant to Cal Govt. Code Section 6254(f), citing Dick Williams v. Superior Court (1993) 5 Cal. 4th 337 (which held that investigative records in the possession of law enforcement are exempt form disclosure).
A: Although the California Public Records Act (“PRA”) requires law enforcement agencies to provide the public with certain basic information (i.e., information about incidents and arrests), investigatory records produced by state, local or federal enforcement and police agencies are protected materials not subject to public disclosure pursuant to the law enforcement exemption of the California Public Records Act. Gov’t Code § 6254(f). Unfortunately, the California Supreme Court has held that this exemption operates to bar disclosure of the police investigatory file even after the investigation ends and there is no further prospect of enforcement. See Williams v. Superior Court, 5 Cal. 4th 227 (1993).
However — although it is not clear it applies here — if the investigation was conducted by the AG, not for criminal investigatory purposes, but to assess civil liability, you may have an argument that such records are not eligible for withholding under the exemption for law enforcement investigations. See, e.g., Register Division of Freedom Newspapers, Inc. v. County of Orange, 158 Cal. App. 3d 893 (1984) (public agencies cannot enter into confidential settlement agreements).