A&A: Can A Request for A Code Enforcement Complaint Be Denied?

Q: I’m a reporter doing a story about an elderly woman who owns a house that is in disrepair. Code enforcement has been after her to clean it up.  I called code enforcement to ask for a copy of the complaint and was told to submit a public records request, which I did. They rejected the request because it’s an open case. Is that justified? The woman gave me a copy of the complaint, which I’m quoting in my story along with the name of the code enforcement officer. Am I in the right?

A: The record you seek might fall under the investigative records exemption to the PRA, which exempts from disclosure
“[r]ecords of complaints to, or investigations conducted by, or records of intelligence information or security procedures…or security files compiled by any other state or local police agency, or any investigatory or security files compiled by any other state
or local agency for correctional, law enforcement, or licensing purposes.”  Gov. Code, § 6254(f).

Though I can’t advise you as to your particular situation, I would observe that, as a general matter, dissemination of truthful information that was lawfully obtained is typically not actionable.

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.  No attorney-client relationship has been formed by way of this response.