A&A: Can I use public records to find out why I was denied unemployment benefits?

Q: I received a Notice of Determination from Employment Development Department (EDD) stating that I had I refused a Job…and under Code 1257B will be denied U/I benefits for 10 week…” I believe that EDD was supplied with false information by a previous employer simply for relation and or harassment do to a previous administrative law appeal that I won awarding me unemployment benefits over the objections of my employer.

Point being, that I’d like access to records. My intent is to sue those who perpetrated the lies resulting in EDD’s Notice of ineligibility.

A: As you may be aware, the Public Records Act provides that “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” is a public record and must be disclosed to the public upon request unless a provision of the PRA exempts it from disclosure. Govt. Code § 6252-6253.

There is no set form or process that must be followed to make a public records request, except that a request must “reasonably describe an identifiable record or records.” Government Code § 6253(b).

Requests need not even be in writing, although doing so creates a record of when you made your request (in case you decide to litigate in the future). Secondly, a written request then requires the agency to provide a written response. Gov’t Code § 6255(b).

In terms of submitting your request, it may be useful to follow the instructions outlined on EDD’s website: http://www.edd.ca.gov/About_EDD/Public_Records_Request.htm .

Although the law does not require you to follow these procedures, and does not excuse the agency of its obligations under the law should a request be made by another method, it is undoubtedly more efficient to submit a request by way of a method that the agency will readily recognize as a Public Records Act request.

Whether the EDD will claim that records you seek are exempt from disclosure remains to be seen. You will not know what exemptions they are claiming until they respond to your request.

However, it is possible that the agency will claim that the records upon which they based their determination that you refused a job, will be exempt as a “record of complaints to, or investigations conducted by . . . any other state or local agency . . for law enforcement purposes.” Again, however, you will not know what exemptions are claimed until you receive a response from the agency.

Unfortunately, the only way to enforce the Public Records Act, whether the agency fails to respond to your request or responds but claims an exemption, is to file a lawsuit. Short of that, however, it can be productive to communicate with the agency regularly while your request is pending.

Bryan Cave LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.