CPRA fees and information in electronic form

CPRA fees and information in electronic form

Q: Responding to a request for copies of all messages, emails from council members laptops to each other, especially during the periods of council meetings for the last two months, the city has responded thusly:Pursuant to the California Public Records Act Government Code 6253.9 b. 2 the following fees are associated with fulfilling your request:

Contract Staff time to extract stored email ($45/hr x35 hrs) = $1,575.00

Recall of off-site tape storage = $200.00

Paper/printing costs = $10.00

Total Fees $1,785.00

Is this legitimate and, if so, do the hourly fees look reasonable?

A: As a general matter, under the Public Records Act (“PRA”) agencies can recover only the “direct cost of duplication” of records. In terms of making paper copies, this means the cost of running the copy machines and conceivably also the expense of the person operating it. The cost of duplication does not include the time spent retrieving, inspecting, and handling the file from which the copy is extracted. NorthCounty Parents Organization for Children with Special Needs v. Department of Education, 23 Cal. App. 4th 144, 146 (1994).

In theNorthCounty case, the court expressly disapproved of a fee that reflected not only copying expenses but also “staff time involved in searching the records, reviewing records for information exempt from disclosure under law, and deleting exempt information.”With respect to information in electronic form, however, the PRA provides that if a “request would require data compilation, extraction, or programming to produce the record,” then “the requester shall bear the cost of producing a copy of the record, including the cost to construct a record, and the cost of programming and computer services necessary to produce a copy of the record.” Cal. Govt. Code Section 6253.9.

It is difficult to tell from here whether the 35 hours of contract staff time to extract the stored e-mails was necessary in order to provide the e-mails that you requested. While it seems that a more efficient solution should have been available (e.g., simply printing e-mails from the laptops themselves), the city appears to be within the letter of the law. With respect to the hourly fee, the $45/hour fee does not seem unreasonable for contract programming, but, again, I am surprised that the project would take 35 hours.