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A&A: Agency Has Taken Months to Respond to CPRA Request. How Do I Find A Lawyer to Help Me Move Forward?

Q:  I sent via certified mail to a state agency in December of 2017. The only correspondence I have received to date was an email acknowledging they received my request on 1/4/18. However, no response has been given to any of the specific requests enumerated in my verified letter. Isn’t the agency supposed to respond to requests within a reasonable time period?  How would I find a lawyer who could help me move forward?

A: Unfortunately, the PRA does not provide a required timeline by which an agency must disclose requested documents, and “[t]he Act provides no remedy for failure to timely comply with a request for records.”  Rogers v. Superior Court, 19 Cal. App. 4th 469, 483 (1993), as modified (Oct. 13, 1993) (emphasis added).

Additionally, timeliness of delivery appears to be a fact specific inquiry – in one case, Marken v. Santa Monica-Malibu Unified Sch. 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.  In contrast, the court in Rogers v. Superior Courtdetermined that responsive records that were not given to the petitioner until three months after the original request did not violate the Act, as the records were promptly disclosed when they became available.  19 Cal. App. 4th 469, 483 (1993), as modified (Oct. 13, 1993).  In Motorola Commc’n & Elecs., Inc. v. Dep’t of Gen. Servs, the court found an initial production within two weeks of a request was timely.  55 Cal. App. 4th 1340, 1349–51 (1997).  However, Government Code section 6253(d) requires, “Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to permit an agency to delay or obstruct the inspection or copying of public records.”

I suggest writing a follow-up letter, reminding the agency of its obligations under the PRA to provide you the estimated date and time when disclosable records will be made available and provide suggestions for overcoming any practical basis for denying such records.  You may also want to remind the CDE that should you be forced to resort to litigation in order to enforce your rights under the Act, a court would “award court costs and reasonable attorney fees to the plaintiff should the plaintiff prevail in litigation filed pursuant to this section.”  Gov’t Code § 6259(d).

If you do feel it is time to contact an attorney, the State Bar of California and has a Lawyer Referral Services that you might find helpful:  http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Public/Need-Legal-Help/Lawyer-Referral-Service/

Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner 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.

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