When and How must the Public Body Respond to Public Records Requests?

The law changes January 1, 2018, and this page describes the 2018 requirements.

Generally, the public body must:

  • Acknowledge receipt of the request and state whether it has the records within 5 business days.
  • “Complete” its response within another 10 business days or estimate when it will complete its response.

The deadlines are not firm because some public bodies only have a few employees or are all volunteer, among other reasons.  For example, if a small school shuts for summer, it need not call back employees simply to respond to a public records request.  So, there are exceptions to the rule that the response must be “as soon as reasonably possible but not later than 10 business days.”  Those exceptions include when staff or volunteers are unavailable, compliance would impede the public body’s ability to perform other necessary services, or the public body is processing a big volume of records requests at the same time.  Still, the public body must respond “as soon as practicable and without unreasonable delay,” even when it cannot “complete” the request within ten days.

The law contemplates an interactive process.  The public body may request clarification of the request or seek payment for the actual costs it expects to incur before providing the records.  If the requester fails to respond to the public body within 60 days, the public body must close its file.

The law considers a response “complete” when the public body (a) provides the records, (b) says why it is not providing records, (c) provides some records and says why it is not providing all of them.

What if the requester and public body do not agree on the decision to withhold records, the dollar cost to fulfill the request, or whether the public body should charge the requester some or all the costs?  The two options are facilitated dispute resolution (a form of mediation) or appeals to the Attorney General or District Attorney and then to the courts.

© 2017 by Jeff Merrick