Q: The Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA) that manages toll roads has sent me an email saying that there is no 14-day requirement for responding to a California Public Records Act request. Also, if a legal matter was brought is it customary for the government agency to pay for attorney’s fees?
A: With respect to your first question, the California Public Records Act (CPRA) sets deadlines for agencies to respond to records requests. Agencies are required to respond to written requests for records within 10 calendar days of receipt of the request, and may extend that deadline by an additional 14 days where there are “unusual circumstances.” Cal. Gov. Code § 6253(c).
“Unusual circumstances” include:
(1) The need to search for and collect the requested records from field facilities or other establishments that are separate from the office processing the request.
(2) The need to search for, collect, and appropriately examine a voluminous amount of separate and distinct records that are demanded in a single request.
(3) The need for consultation, which shall be conducted with all practicable speed, with another agency having substantial interest in the determination of the request or among two or more components of the agency having substantial subject matter interest therein.
(4) The need to compile data, to write programming language or a computer program, or to construct a computer report to extract data.
Cal. Gov. Code § 6253(c).
Note that it is unfortunately not at all uncommon for government agencies to miss these deadlines. Further, the CPRA enforcement procedures set forth in Cal. Gov. Code § 6258 – 6259 provides judicial recourse where records are being improperly withheld, not where records are disclosed but delivered late. If the TCA ultimately denies your records request on improper grounds, or fails to respond at all, then you could bring a legal action to enforce the CPRA. However, the CPRA itself does not contain a mechanism to enforce its deadlines.
As to your second question, if you do ultimately bring a legal action after an improper denial or outright failure to respond, and if you are successful in proving a violation of the CPRA, then the agency will be required to pay your legal fees. Cal. Gov. Code § 6259(d). However, if the court finds your suit “clearly frivolous,” you will be required to pay the agency’s legal fees.
More information about the CPRA, including your options for enforcement, can be found at the First Amendment Coalition’s website 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.