California Public Records Act

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The California Public Records Act (CPRA) is a series of laws designed to guarantee that the public has access to public records of governmental bodies in California. Statutes 6250 - 6270 define the law.

When the law was passed, the California legislature prefaced it by saying, ."..access to information concerning the conduct of the people's business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state."

The California Open Meeting Act (also cited as the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act or the Ralph M. Brown Act) legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted. Statutes 11120-11132 define the law.

To learn more about how to make a public records request in this state, please see California FOIA procedures.

Transparency report card

A 2008 study, BGA - Alper Integrity Index, conducted by the Better Government Association and sponsored by Alper Services, ranked California #19 in the nation with an overall percentage of 55.30%.[1]

A 2007 study, Graded state responsiveness to FOI requests, conducted by BGA and the NFOIC, gave California 53 points out of a possible 100, a letter grade of "F" and a ranking of 17 out of the 50 states.[2]

A 2002 study, Freedom of Information in the USA, conducted by IRE and BGA, ranked California's law as the 21st best in the country, giving it a letter grade of "C-."[3]

Features of the law

Sunshine variations Compare States: Sunshine variations
Click on the heading to compare your state's law to other state's transparency laws.

Declared legal intention

See also: Declared legal intentions across the U.S.

Section 6250 of the California Public Records Act states that, "In enacting this chapter, the Legislature, mindful of the right of individuals to privacy, finds and declares that access to information concerning the conduct of the people's business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state."[4]

What records are covered?

See also: Defining public records
  • Unless there is a specific statutory exemption, all records of included agencies are subject to the CPRA.
  • "Public records" are defined as "any writing containing information relating to the conduct of the public's business prepared, owned, used or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics."
  • Cal. Gov't Code § 6252(g) defines "writing" as "any handwriting, typewriting, printing, photostating, photographing, photocopying, transmitting by electronic mail or facsimile, and every other means of recording upon any tangible thing any form of communication or representation, including letters, words, pictures, sounds or symbols, or combination thereof, and any record thereby created, regardless of the manner in which the record has been stored."
  • However, unlike in some states, such as New York, in California the "mere custody of a writing by a public agency does not make it a public record, but if a record is kept by an officer because it is necessary or convenient to the discharge of his official duty, it is a public record." This statement was made in Braun v. City of Taft 1984.
  • One California court has set apart a category of "purely personal information" that, although it may be in the custody of a government agency, does not fall under the CPRA. "This definition is intended to cover every conceivable kind of record that is involved in the governmental process and will pertain to any new form of record-keeping instrument as it is developed. Only purely personal information unrelated to "the conduct of the public's business" could be considered exempt from this definition (i.e., the shopping list phoned from home, the letter to a public officer from a friend which is totally void of reference to governmental activities.'" This statement appears in 1983's San Gabriel Tribune v. Superior Court.

Exemptions

Statute 6254 outlines a number of exemptions to the California Public Records Act

In addition to statute 6254, statute 6255 of the CPRA provides a catch-all exemption, stating that, "The agency shall justify withholding any record by demonstrating that the record in question is exempt under express provisions of this chapter or that on the facts of the particular case the public interest served by not disclosing the record clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record." The question of what defines public interest has come up in many court cases, the most notable of which include:


Deliberative process
See also: Deliberative process exemption in California

California statute provides an exemption for the working papers of both public bodies at the state and local level as well as the working papers of the legislature. In addition, the correspondence of the Governor's office is exempted by law in order to protect the "free flow of information."

What agencies are covered?

See also: Defining public body
  • Every state office, officer, department, division, bureau, board and commission or other state body or agency is covered by CPRA except the state legislature and the courts.
  • Local agencies are covered, including counties, cities, school districts, municipal corporations, districts, political subdivisions, or any board, commission or agency thereof; other local public agencies; or non-profit entities that are legislative bodies of a local agency. See California Government Code §6252(a).
  • The entire judicial branch of the government is not covered under CPRA. However, there are some other common law understandings, federal law and other California laws under which some records of the judicial branch may be considered public records. Also, California Court Rule 10.500 provides access to judicial administrative records.[5]

Legislature

See also: Legislatures and transparency
  • There is a separate act, the Legislative Open Records Act, to which records of the legislature are subject.
  • A California Constitutional Sunshine Amendment was passed by California's voters in 2004; it does apply to the Legislature because it applies generally to "public bodies" and to the "writings of public officials," without excluding the Legislature.

Privatized governmental agencies

See also: Private agency, public dollars and Private agency, public dollars in California

California law incorporates private entities under the public records law in a number of specific situations:

  • If a private entity receives public funding and is controlled or managed by a public entity, it is considered a public body and subject to the law.
  • If a private entity performs a public function and was created by a public agency, whether directly or indirectly, it is considered a public body and subject to the law.
  • There was a broad, sweeping exemption in California law for university foundations, established by California State University, Fresno Assn., Inc. v. Superior Court. However, this was overturned in 2011 when Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that eliminated the exemption.

Public universities

See also: Universities and open records

The definition of public body presumably includes public universities within the state. Up until 2011, California State University, Fresno Assn., Inc. v. Superior Court exempted University foundations from public records request. However, in 2011, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that eliminated the exemption.[6]

Who may request records?

See also: List of who can make public record requests by state

Anyone can request public documents in California. "[E]very person has a right to inspect any public record".[7]

  • California Government Code (CGC) Sec. 6252(c) defines "person" to include any natural person, corporation, partnership, limited liability company, firm or association.
  • Foreign and domestic corporations are included in the CPRA's definition of "person."
  • Unlike the situation in some states, a plaintiff who files suit against a public agency may utilize the CPRA to obtain documents for use in litigation to the same extent as any other person.

Must a purpose be stated?

See also: States requiring a statement of purpose

Whatever the motivation of a person requesting records under CPRA, it is irrelevant in determining whether the records must be provided to that person.[8]

CPRA, however, does have an "investigatory records exemption" which says that a person who requests the address of an individual who has been arrested, or the current address of the victim of a crime, must declare under penalty of perjury that the request is made for a journalistic, scholarly, political or governmental purpose, or is sought for investigatory purposes by a licensed private investigator. The requester must also declare that the information obtained pursuant to this subsection will not be used directly or indirectly to sell a product or service.[9]

How can records be used?

See also: Record use restrictions

The CPRA does not regulate the use of records obtained from public agencies.

CPRA, however, does have an "investigatory records exemption" which says that a person who requests the address of an individual who has been arrested, or the current address of the victim of a crime, must declare under penalty of perjury that the request is made for a journalistic, scholarly, political or governmental purpose, or is sought for investigatory purposes by a licensed private investigator. The requester must also declare that the information obtained pursuant to this subsection will not be used directly or indirectly to sell a product or service.[9]

Time allowed for response

See also: Request response times by state

The California Public Records Act allows for 10 days for an agency to comply with a records request.[10]

Fees for records

Copy costs

See also: How much do public records cost?

The CPRA allows government agencies to charge "fees covering direct costs of duplication, or a statutory fee if applicable."

  • If a specific statute defines a specific fee for a certain type of record, that takes precedence over CPRA.
  • In 1994, a California court defined "direct costs" to include photocopying costs only.[11]
  • For electronic data, "direct cost" is the cost of producing "a copy of a record in an electronic format."

Search fees

See also: Sunshine laws and search fees

California law does not permit public bodies to charge fees incorporating search and staff time.

  • When a person asks to inspect records, but not copy them, CPRA does not include a provision that allows government agencies to charge for search and retrieval time.
  • In 1994, a California court disallowed a $0.25 per-page fee because the agency arrived at the fee by adding staff time into its calculations.
Extensive and burdensome searches

American Civil Liberties Union Foundation v. Deukmejian declared that the cost incurred by any department of separating exempted material from non-exempted material represents a detriment to the public interest of the smooth and efficient flow of government. This detriment can be weighted against the benefit to the public of the release of the records when considering whether to deny records requests based on statute 6255 of the California Public Records Act

Fee waivers

Government agencies may reduce or waive fees under the CPRA provision that allows agencies to develop ways to provide greater access than CPRA's minimum standards.

Role of the Attorney General

See also: Role of the Attorney General

There is currently no provision within the CPRA that permits the State Attorney General to initiate proceedings against a public state agency to disclose public records unless the Attorney General has been denied access to public records.

Open meetings

"It is the public policy of this state that public agencies exist to aid in the conduct of the people's business and the proceedings of public agencies be conducted openly so that the public may remain informed."[12]

Relevant legal cases

See also: Court cases with an impact on state FOIA

Here is a list of lawsuits in California (the cases are listed alphabetically; to order them by year, please click the icon to the right of the "year" heading).


Lawsuit Year
Adler v. City Council of Culver City 1960
American Civil Liberties Union Foundation v. Deukmejian 1982
American Federation of State etc. Employees v. Regents of University of California 1978
Bakersfield City School Dist. v. Superior Court 2004
Braun v. City of Taft 1984
CBS Broadcasting v. Superior Court 2001
CBS Inc. v. Block 1986
California State University, Fresno Assn., Inc. v. Superior Court 2001
Californians Aware v. Orange Unified School District 2006
Chronicle Publishing Company v. Superior Court 1960
Citizens for a Better Environment v. Dept. of Food & Agriculture 1985
City & County of San Francisco v. Superior Court 1951
City of Hemet v. Superior Court 1995
Cohan v. City of Thousand Oaks 1994
Coronado Police Officers Association v. Carroll 2003
County of Los Angeles v. Superior Court 1993
Desert Sun v. Palm Springs Desert Resorts Convention and Visitors Authority 2005
Dixon v. Superior Court 2009
Epstein v. Hollywood Entertainment Dist. II Business Improvement Dist. 2001
International Longshoremen's & Warehousemen's Union v. Los Angeles Export Terminal, Inc. 1999
Lorig v. Medical Board 2000
Mushet v. Department of Public Service of City of Los Angeles 1917
Register Div. of Freedom Newspapers Inc. v. County of Orange 1984
San Gabriel Tribune v. Superior Court 1983
State Board of Equalization v. Superior Court 1992
Times Mirror Co. v. Superior Court 1991
Versaci v. Superior Court 2005
Williams v. Superior Court 1993


Proposed changes

2011

See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2011


We do not currently have any legislation for California in 2011.


2010

See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2010


We have no current bill pages for California from 2010. This may be due to incomplete research.


2009

See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2009

Senate Bill 106 sought to add school districts, community college districts and county boards of education to the definition of a local agency whose officials must receive ethics training on subjects such as open records laws.[13] The bill was introduced on March 4, 2009 and remained in the Senate as of April 2009.

Senate Bill 218 sought to make the records of non-profit organizations associated with state agencies and universities subject to the Open Records law.[14] The bill was sponsored by Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), who stated that, "Taxpayers and students deserve to know how their public universities are run."[15] The bill was amended and sent back to the Senate's Judiciary Committee on April 27, 2009.

Senate Bill 502 would have required state agencies and departments to develop a searchable web site relating to the expenditures of state funds.[16] The bill was referred to the Senate's Governmental Organization Committee in March 2009.

Senate Bill 719 would have required state agencies and departments to develop and maintain a searchable web site that includes information relating to expenditures of state funds including contract grants, purchase orders, subcontracts, tax refunds, rebates and credits.[17] The bill was referred to the Senate's Appropriations Committee in April 2009.

Assembly Bill 400, sponsored by Assemblyman Kevin de Leon, would have required public disclosure of state spending by all departments.[18] It was referred to the Committee on Appropriations in April 2009.

Assembly Bill 520 would have allowed superior courts to issue protective orders limiting the number and scope of requests a person can make under the California Public Records Act if the court determines that the requester is seeking the records for an 'improper purpose' (including, but not limited to, harassing employees of state agencies).[19]

The bill has received wide criticism, particularly for failing to define the term 'improper' with any specificity.[20] The California Newspapers Publishers Association wrote a letter to Assemblywoman Wilmer Amina Carter expressing their opposition to the bill and stating their position that "public access decisions must be made based on the law's presumption of access" and that "agencies must never be allowed to determine whether or not to comply with a request based on whether the request is for a use approved by the agency (i.e., a good use)."[21]

Assembly Bill 1194 would have also required state agencies and departments to develop and maintain a searchable web site that includes information relating to expenditures of state funds.[22] The bill was referred to the Business and Professions Committee in April 2009.

See also

External links

References