A&A: CPR request denied because it wasn’t submitted on letterhead

Q: My request request for mugshot demographics data was denied by the California Department of Corrections. I sent specific data parameters for this information along with my name address and telephone number and received a telephone call from someone in the state archives denying my request. I was told the request was denied because it was not submitted on letterhead. I explained that I was requesting the information as a private citizen and did not have letterhead.

Can you assist me or direct me in order to obtain this information?

A: Under the Public Records Act (PRA), an agency must respond to a PRA request, typically within 10 days, to let the person know whether it has records in its possession that
are responsive to the request.  If claiming an exemption to the PRA, the agency must not only specify the exemption but also explain how it applies.  Gov’t Code § 6253(c).

Notably, there is no requirement that a PRA request be on letterhead, or in any particular form, for that matter.  I recommend that you write back to the agency, making it clear that your request is a public records request under California’s Public Records Act.  I would remind the agency of its duty to respond and assist you.  If the agency is claiming a specific exemption under the PRA, it must let you know which exemption it is relying on and how it applies.

Once you know which exemption (if any) it is claiming, you will be in a better position to argue why the records should be disclosed.  However, the mere fact that your letter was not on letterhead is not a valid reason for the agency to deny your request.

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.

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One Response to A&A: CPR request denied because it wasn’t submitted on letterhead

  1. Stephen February 14, 2017 at 1:15 pm #

    I didn’t see in the question that the requester wanted a copy of the info.
    The up to 10 day delay is to produce copies.

    A request to view public records is supposed to be done “promptly ” according to the CPRA.