Freedom of Information Acts

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36. Freedom of Information Acts

For centuries, the common law has recognized the publics right to access of public records. Access to public records has been an important component of participatory democracy and a judiciary accountable for its decisions. Thus have evolved important aspects of our legal system that we presently take for granted, such as our highly elaborate system of publication of judicial opinions, and the detailed reporting of the workings of congress.

However, this important feature of an open government can also run afoul of another important aspect of our democracy: the right to privacy. There are also matters in which the government must have the ability to exercise discretion and some degree of secrecy, both to protect actors in various government activities and to be able to set policy without risking negotiating strategies. But there are also certain matters in which a persons involvement in government matters may be an embarrassment or may unfairly damage a persons reputation or even compromise their safety.

Government, generally, tends to prefer a more secretive approach to governing. Not necessarily because it has secret or malicious motives, but because it is always easier to act in an official capacity if fewer people are aware of the myriad details that surround even the most mundane government business, such as negotiating a foreign trade deal, or launching an investigation of a corrupt politician. Most persons in government are happy to make public the results of their actions and policies, but are loath to release details of the discussions or negotiations about how the policy came to be made.

In 1966, the United States Congress passed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), for the first time creating a statutory right of public access to public records. Since that time, every state has passed its own version of FOIA. State FOIAs may not contravene any federal laws, but since the states are not custodians of any federal records, little danger exists of states allowing access to federal records that the federal government does not want to make public. State FOIAs instead deal with public access to state records.

In situations where a person desires access to public records that a government agency is unwilling to, or for procedural reasons is unable to release, the person may file a FOIA request with the agency or office. Most government agencies are now set up with special procedures and offices devoted to full time work on fulfilling FOIA requests. In most cases offices that keep public records have forms on which FOIA requests may be made. Individual requests are then granted or denied based on the standards of disclosure required by the statutes.

The following chart details four distinct aspects of state FOIA laws. Most state FOIAs specify that FOIA requests may be made by citizens of the state. They also specify remedies for violations of the acts. Usually, the acts provide for injunctions if an agency denies a request, or damages if an agency gives out records that it shouldnt. State FOIA statutes are also divided on the issue of whether to allow agencies to charge money for the records given up on such a request. Some states permit agencies to charge for the time it takes to search the records and for the cost of making copies. Some states only permit an agency to charge a reasonable amount for the cost of copying them.

The most interesting aspect of the state FOIA laws are the numbers and natures of exemptions specified in the statutes. Of course, there are some states that provide no enumerated exemptions at all. In those situations, presumably, reasonableness will govern when a disclosure has violated a right to privacy. But some states, such as Hawaii, has a broad exemption statute that says that public records need not be disclosed when it would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. At the other extreme, the state of Californias exemption statutes enumerate dozens and dozens of specific exemptions. Every imaginable type of public record kept by every imaginable public and quasi-public agency or entity is covered in California, from records of alcoholic rehabilitation and records of podiatrists to disciplinary records of public officials. Instead of trying to list every exemption found in each state with enumerated exemptions, the chart only lists the statute numbers where the exemptions may be found. Listing all the exemptionsparticularly for states like Californiais, for all practical purposes, impossible.

* This chapter was compiled by Kristin Thornblad, 2007 graduate of the University of Nebraska, College of Law.

Table 36: Freedom of Information Acts
State/StatuteWho May Request/What DocumentsExemptions FoundRemedies for Violation of the ActFees for Disclosure of Records?
ALABAMA §§ 36-12-40, 36-12-41§ 36-12-40 Any citizen/any public writing  § 36-12-41 Yes
ALASKA §§ 40.25.110 40.25.125§ 40.25.110 Any member of the public/all public records§ 40.25.120§ 40.25.110 Injunctive relief without exhausting administrative remedies§ 40.25.110(b) & (c) Yes, actual costs for production and copying
ARIZONA §§ 39-121.0139-121.03§ 39-121.01(D) Any person/any public record § 39-121.02(A) Special action in the superior court§ 39-121.03 Yes, reasonable fee for production and actual cost of reproduction
ARKANSAS §§ 25-19-10125-19-107§ 25-19-105 Any citizen of Arkansas/all public records§ 25-19-105(b)§ 25-19-107 Immediate appeal to the Pulaski County Circuit or circuit of county of victims residence 
CALIFORNIA Govt Code §§ 62506277§ 6253 Any person/any public record§§ 6254; 6254.1 6254.25; 6267; 6276.02 6276.48§ 6259 Petition to the superior court in county where the records are situated§ 6253(b) Yes, direct cost of copying
COLORADO §§ 24-72-20130-10-101§ 24-72-201 Any person/all public records§ 24-72-204§ 24-72-204(5) Appeal to agency, then appeal to district court where record is found§ 24-72-205 Yes, reasonable fee for copying
CONNECTICUT §§ 1-2001-215§ 1-210(a) Every person/all public records§§ 1-210; 1-213; 1-214; 2-215 § 1-212 Yes, fees for copying not to exceed actual cost and as set by statute
DELAWARE 29 Del C §§ 1000110112§ 10003 Any citizen of Delaware/all public records§ 10002(d)§ 10005(a) Appeal to Court of Chancery§ 10003 Yes, reasonable costs for copying
FLORIDA §§ 119.01119.19§ 119.01 Any person/all public records§ 119.07(3)§ 119.07(2)(b) Appeal as civil action in court§ 119.07(1)(a) & (b) Yes, fees for copying not to exceed actual cost, fees for service in certain circumstances
GEORGIA §§ 50-18-7050-28-103§ 50-18-70(b) Any citizen of Georgia/any public record§ 50-18-72§ 50-18-73 Appeal to superior court§ 50-18-71(b)-(e) Yes, reasonable costs of production and copying, or as provided by law
HAWAII § 92F-392F-28§ 92F-11 Any person/all government records§§ 92F-13, 14, 22§§ 92F-15, 47 Appeal to circuit court 
IDAHO §§ 9-3379-350§ 9-338 Every person/any public record§ 9-340A-F; § 9-342A§ 9-343 Appeal to district court§ 9-338(7)(a) Yes, actual cost of copying
ILLINOIS 140 ILCS §§ 111§ 3 Any person/all public records§ 7§§ 10,11 Administrative appeal to agency, then appeal to circuit court§ 6 Yes, actual costs of reproducing and certifying
State/StatuteWho May Request/What DocumentsExemptions FoundRemedies for Violation of the ActFees for Disclosure of Records?
INDIANA §§ 5-14-3-15-14-3-10§ 5-14-3-3 Any person/public records of any public agency§ 5-14-3-4§ 5-14-3-9 Appeal to circuit court or superior court in county where disclosure denied§ 5-14-3-8 Yes, average cost of copying for all state agencies
IOWA §§ 22.122.14§ 22.2 Every person/public records§ 22.7§ 22.9 Appeal to district court in which custodian of record has principle place of business§ 22.3 Yes, reasonable fee for access and/or copying
KANSAS §§ 45-21545-225§ 45-218 Any person/all public records§ 45-221§ 45-222(a) Appeal to district court of county in which records are located§ 45-219(c) Yes, reasonable fees for access and/or copying
KENTUCKY §§ 61.87061.884§ 61.872 Any person/all public records§ 61.878§§ 61.88061.882 Appeal to Attorney General, then appeal to Circuit Court of county where relevant public agency has its principle place of business§ 61.874(3) Yes, reasonable fee for copying
LOUISIANA RS Tit. 24 §§ 1-§ 31 Any person who is age of majority/any public record§§ 25, 1113§ 35 Writ of mandamus in district court for the parish in which the document custodians office is located§ 32(C) Yes, reasonable fees for copying
MAINE 1 MRS §§ 402 410§ 408 Every person/all public records§ 402§ 409 Appeal to any superior court in the state§ 408 Yes, fees for translating and copying
MARYLAND State Govt §§ 10-61110-628§ 10-613 Any person/any public record§§ 10-61510-618§ 10-623 Appeal to circuit court where complaintant resides or has a principle place of business, or where record is located§ 10-620 Yes, reasonable fees for search, preparation, and reproduction
MASSACHUSETTS Ch. 66, §§ 317C§ 10 Every person/any public record§§ 10, 17A§ 10(a) Appeal to superior court§ 10(a) Yes, actual costs for search
MICHIGAN §§ 15.23115-244§ 15.233 Any person not serving a sentence of imprisonment/any public document§ 15.234§ 15.240 Administrative appeal to public body, then appeal to circuit court§ 15.234 Yes, actual costs for search and preparation
MINNESOTA §§ 13.0315.17§ 13.03 Any person/all public records  § 13.03(3)(c) Yes, actual costs for search and retrieval
MISSISSIPPI§§ 25-61-125-61-17§ 25-61-2 Any person/any public record§§ 25-61-9, 25-61-13§ 25-61-13 Appeal to chancery court in court where public record is located§ 25-61-7 Yes, actual costs for search and duplication
MISSOURI §§ 109.180, 610.010610.150§ 109.180 Any citizen of Missouri/all public records§§ 610.021, 610.035, 610.100, 610.120, 610.150.§ 610.027 Appeal to state court§ 610.026(1) Yes, actual costs for search and duplication
MONTANA §§ 2-6-1012-6-111§ 2-6-102(1) Every citizen/any public writing§ 2-6-102(4)§ 2-6-107 Appeal to district court of county where the public official denied request§ 2-6-103 Yes, fees commensurate with filing costs and copying services
State/StatuteWho May Request/What DocumentsExemptions FoundRemedies for Violation of the ActFees for Disclosure of Records?
NEBRASKA §§ 84-71284-712.09§ 84-712.01 Any member of the public/all records of the state§ 84-712.05§ 84-712.04 Writ of mandamus in district court, or petition to the Attorney General 
NEVADA §§ 239.010 239.303§ 239.010 Any person/all public records § 239.011 Appeal to district court in the county in which the book or record is located 
NEW HAMPSHIRE §§ 91-A:491-A:8§ 91-A:4 Every citizens/all public records§ 91-A:5§ 91-A:7 Petition to the superior court§ 91-A:4.IV. Yes, fees for copying
NEW JERSEY §§ 47:1A-1 47:1A-4§ 47:1A-1 All citizens of the state/all public records§ 47:1A-1.2§ 47:1A-4 Appeal to the superior court§ 47:1A-2 Yes, fees for copying as enumerated by law
NEW MEXICO §§ 14-2-114-2-8§ 14-2-1.A. Every person/any public records§ 14-2-1(1)-(8)  
NEW YORKART. 6, §§ 84- 90§ 84 All persons/all public records§§ 87(2), 89 § 87.1(b) Yes, actual costs of preparation and copying, not to exceed 25 cents per photocopy
NORTH CAROLINA §§ 132-1132-9§ 132-6(a) Any person/any public record§§ 132-1.1, 132-1.2, 132-1.3, 132-1.4, 132-1.5§ 132-5.1(a) Petition to superior court of county in which public custodian of record resides§ 132-6.2 Yes, actual cost of reproduction
NORTH DAKOTA §§ 44-04-1844-04-18.14§ 44-04-18 All public records§§ 44-04-18.144-04-18.14 § 44-04-18(2) Yes, reasonable fee for making and/or mailing copy
OHIO §§ 149.43149.44§ 149.43(b)(1) Any person/all public records§ 149.43(A)§ 149.43(C) A mandamus action in the court of common pleas in which the request was denied§ 149.43(B) Yes, costs for preparation and postage
OKLAHOMA 51 Okla. §§ 24A.124A.18§ 24A.5 Any person/all public records§§ 24A.5(1); 24A.7; 24A.924A.16 § 24A.5(3) Yes, reasonable direct costs for copying and reproduction, or as otherwise proscribed by law
OREGON §§ 192.410 192.505§ 192.420 Every person/any public record§§ 192.445, 192.496, 192.501, 192.502§ 192.450 Petition to the Attorney General§ 192.440(3) Yes, reasonable fees for actual costs for compiling and providing copies
PENNSYLVANIA 65 PaCS §§ 66.166.4§ 66.2 Every citizen of Pennsylvania/every public record§ 66.1(2)§ 66.4 Appeal to a court§ 66.3. Yes, subject to reasonable rules
RHODE ISLAND §§ 38-2-138-2-15§ 38-2-3 Every person/all public records§ 38-2-2(A)§§ 38-2-8, 38-2-9 Administrative appeal to the agency, then appeal to superior court§ 38-2-4 Yes, reasonable charge for copying, preparation, and retrieval
State/StatuteWho May Request/What DocumentsExemptions FoundRemedies for Violation of the ActFees for Disclosure of Records?
SOUTH CAROLINA §§ 30-4-1030-4-110§ 30-4-30 Any person/any public record§ 30-4-40§ 30-4-100(a) Appeal to circuit court§ 38-4-30(b) Yes, actual cost of searching for and making copies
SOUTH DAKOTA §§ 1-26-21-26-27§ 1-27-1 Any person/any public record§ 1-27-3  
TENNESSEE §§ 10-7-50310-7-508§ 10-7-503(a) Any citizen of Tennessee/any public records§§ 10-7-503(d); 10-7-504;§ 10-7-505 Appeal to chancery court for the county in which the requested records are located 
TEXAS Govt Code §§ 552.001 552.353§§ 552.002. 552.003 Any person/all public information§§ 552.024552.123§ 552.301 Request for decision by Attorney General§ 552.261 Yes, reasonable fee for preparation and copying
UTAH §§ 63-2-10163-2-405§ 63-2-201 Every person/all public records§§ 63-2-201(3), 63-2-302, 63-2-304§§ 63-2-40163-2-404 Administrative appeal to head of agency, appeal to records committee, judicial review in state court§ 63-2-203 Yes, reasonable fee for actual cost of duplication
VERMONT 1 VSA §§ 315320§ 316(a) Any person/any public record§ 317(c)§319 Appeal to superior court in which records located or complaintant resides or has a principle place of business, or superior court for Washington County§ 316(a)-(k) Yes, actual cost of preparation and copying
VIRGINIA §§ 2.1-3412.1-346.1§ 2.1-342 any citizen of the Commonwealth/any public records§§ 2.1-342.01, 2.1-342.02§ 2.1-346 Petition of mandamus to general district court or court of record of the county from where the relevant public official was appointed, elected§ 2.1-342 Yes, reasonable charges for actual costs of preparation and production
WASHINGTON §§ 42.17.25042.17.348§§ 42.17.260(1), 42.17.270 Any person/all public records§§ 42.17.310, 42.17.31242.17.315§§ 42.17.325, 42.17.330 Appeal to Attorney General, appeal to superior court for county in which the movant lives or the record is located§ 42.17.300 Yes, reasonable charge for copying and access to copying equipment
WEST VIRGINIA §§ 29B-1-129B-1-7§ 29B-1-3(1) Every person/any public record§ 29B-1-4§ 29B-1-5(1) Appeal to circuit court in the county where the public record is kept§ 29B-1-3(5) Yes, fees for actual cost of making reproductions
WISCONSIN §§ 19.2119.39§ 19.35(1) Any person/any public record§ 19.36§ 19.37(1) Action for mandamus in court or request the district attorney in county where records found or attorney general to bring mandamus action§ 19.35(3) Yes, actual, direct cost of reproduction and transcription
State/StatuteWho May Request/What DocumentsExemptions FoundRemedies for Violation of the ActFees for Disclosure of Records?
WYOMING §§ 16-4-201§ 16-4-202(a) Any person/all public records§ 16-4-203§ 16-4-203(f) Appeal to district court of district where the record is found§ 16-4-204 Yes, reasonable fees for preparation and copying

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