University of California Collections
Q: I’m trying to gain viewing and copying access of an archive at UCLA Special Collections that until last week has been available to the public. It is a collection of materials from a research study funded by the NIMH in the 1970s, of a single subject who is now an incompetent adult, protected confidentially by the Dept. of Developmental Services. The legal dept at UCLA insists that while they have no idea who is the legal owner of the archive, since they are “the possessors”, that they are not allowing access to it anymore, as of last week. I believe this widely-known scientific study should fall under the Public Records Act and be made available (again).
A: It is not clear from your message what the basis for the denial of access to the materials you seek is. The best course of action, therefore, might be to make a written request under California’s Public Records Act (see below), which should prompt a written response setting forth the basis for the denial (assuming that your request is denied again).
Note that the PRA defines “public records” to include “any writing containing information relating to the conduct of the public’s business prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics.” Govt. Code Section 6252(e) (emphasis added). There may be some question as to whether the materials you are trying to access “relat[e] to the conduct of the public’s business,” as necessary to qualify as a public record under the PRA. There may also be some question as to whether privacy interests of the subject of the study may outweigh the right to access. Whether any such privacy interests could be a legitimate basis for withholding could be an interesting question in light of what sounds like decades of unfettered public access to the materials.
In any event, unless you already know the basis for the denial, determining that may be the best place to start. You can find resources to assist you with a written request — including a sample request letter — at http://www.cfac.org/content/index.php/cfac-records/index/.