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Public Records Requests—Scope of What Can be Required of Agency

Posted by Ted A. Schmidt | Jul 06, 2016 | 0 Comments

American Civil Liberties Union v. Arizona Dept. of Child Safety, __Ariz. Adv. Rep.__, 1 CA-CV 140781 (App. Div. I, June 9, 2016) (J. Norris)

PUBLIC AGENCIES ARE REQUIRED TO DO SPECIFIC DATA SEARCHES TO COMPLY WITH PUBLIC RECORD REQUESTS BUT ARE NOT REQUIRED TO TALLY AND COMPILE PREVIOUSLY UNTALLIED INFORMATON

The American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU] sought a variety of records concerning child welfare services which not only required production of records but required the agency to do data base searches and compile statistics and other comparative data from its records. The agency did not comply to the ACLU's satisfaction so the ACLU brought this special action.  A.R.S.§39-121.01(D)(2)(Supp. 2015)2(detailing agency's obligations when it withholds public records); A.R.S.§ 39-121.02(A)(Supp.2015)(authorizing special action from denial of access to public records). The trial court denied the ACLU request finding the agency was not required to create new public records by doing specific data searches and compiling statistics.  The Arizona Court of Appeals reversed in part and affirmed in part.

The court of appeals held:

Arizona's public records law requires the agency to take appropriate steps to query and search its database to identify, retrieve, and produce responsive records for inspection. Thus, we reverse the superior court's ruling to the contrary.  We agree with the superior court, however, that when, as here, a state agency maintains public records in an electronic database, Arizona's public records law does not require the agency to tally and compile previously untallied and un-compiled information or data available in that database.

Finally, in order to avoid unreasonably burdensome requests, if the agency can prove that the request places an “unreasonable administrative burden” upon the agency the court may rule in favor of non-disclosure.

About the Author

Ted A. Schmidt

Ted's early career as a trial attorney began on the other side of the fence, in the offices of a major insurance defense firm. It was there that Ted acquired the experience, the skills and the special insight into defense strategy that have served him so well in the field of personal injury law. Notable among his successful verdicts was the landmark Sparks vs. Republic National Life Insurance Company case, a $4.5 million award to Ted's client. To this day, it is the defining case for insurance bad faith, and yet it is only one of several other multi-million dollar jury judgments won by Ted during his career. He is certified by the State Bar of Arizona as a specialist in "wrongful death and bodily injury litigation".

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