A&A: City Delays Responding to Records Requests Until It’s Too Late To Use the Information Requested

Q: I sent three public records requests to the a city in California. On the same day, the City provided confirmation of receipt of those requests. During the next 43 days, I received several emails from the City stating “Pursuant to Government Code § 6253.c(2)” they need more time to “respond.” I finally sent another email to the City demanding a response. After 45 days, the City responded to one of the three requests I sent and began providing records. The City also stated they were not aware of the other two requests. On day 51, the City responded to the request and included an apology for the delay.

However, the City has not been providing the records “promptly” and the City has not responded to my email regarding the delay in providing the records. The issue at hand will be coming before the City Council in the next couple of weeks and I’m beginning to think the City is intentionally delaying my requests to frustrate my cause.

A: While your present situation is no doubt frustrating, it is not at all uncommon for government agencies to miss the deadlines prescribed by the California Public Records Act. Typically, we advise requesters to write to the agency reminding it of its duty to respond to your request within the time frames provided in the Act, Cal. Gov. Code 6253(c). It appears you have already done this.

If you believe the city is wrongfully withholding records, the only means of enforcing the CPRA is filing a lawsuit. As set forth in Cal. Gov. Code § 6259, a lawsuit to enforce the CPRA is initiated by submitting a verified petition to a court asking it to issue a writ of mandate directing the agency to release the requested records. If you are successful in proving a violation of the public records laws, the court will order the agency to release the records, and the agency will be liable for your court costs and attorney’s fees. Cal. Gov. Code § 6259(b), (d). However, if the court finds your suit is “clearly frivolous,” you will be responsible for the agency’s court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees in defending the lawsuit. Cal. Gov. Code § 6259(d).

If you are looking for a lawyer to represent you in potential legal action against the City, a good place to start would be the Orange County Bar Association’s lawyer referral service, found here.

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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