A&A: Request for public information not honored

Q: I made a request for public information four months ago from my local school district and I have not received the requested information. Please advise.

A: The Public Records Act contains various provisions related to the time an agency has to respond to a request for public records, as well as the disclosure of those records to the requester.  Gov’t Code § 6253(c) provides that the agency must respond to a request for a copy of a public record within 10 days. The time for responding can be extended by the agency for an additional 14 days in “unusual circumstances,” but the requester must be apprised of this extension in writing.  Gov’t Code § 6253(d) elaborates that “nothing in this chapter shall be construed to permit an agency to delay or obstruct the inspection or copying of public records.”

If the agency determines that it has records that are responsive to a request, it must make copies of those records available promptly thereafter, Gov’t Code § 6253(c), although there is not much guidance in California case law as what constitutes “prompt” disclosure.

In one case, Marken v. Santa Monica-Malibu Unified Schl. Dist., 202 Cal. App. 4th 1250, 1268 n.14 (2012), the court of appeal noted that it had “serious questions” about whether a delay of one month, following the school district’s determination that the records requested were subject to disclosure, was warranted.

On the other hand, the court in Rogers v. Superior Court, 19 Cal. App. 4th 469, 483 (1993), found that where the “City had disclosed all records it had been required to produce,” and, with respect to “most” of those records, had produced them within two months of the petitioner’s informal request and two months of his formal request. With respect to the remainder – which the city initially did not know were in its possession, but were “promptly disclosed them when they were available” – the city had not violated the Public Records Act.

You might want to write to the school district, reminding it of its duty, under the Public Records Act, to provide you with copies of the records in a timely manner.  You could also remind the district of its duty to let you know if it is claiming a particular exemption that applies to the records you requested. Gov’t Code § 6253(c). They should also assist you in making a focused and effective request that reasonably describe identifiable records.  Gov’t Code § 6253.1.

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.