Lake v. City of Phoenix was a case before the Arizona Supreme Court in 2009 concerning the applicability of open records law to electronic data.
This case established that information held in an electronic medium is subject to the Arizona Public Records Law in the original medium, including all meta-data attached to the record.
- David Lake filed a federal lawsuit against the Phoenix Police Department for employment discrimination. In the process of prosecuting his suit, Lake submitted a records request for all notes made by his supervisor concerning his job performance.
- After reviewing the printed notes he had received in response to his records request, Lake felt that a number of the dates had been changed. As a result, he requested the documents in their original electronic form including all meta-data associated with them.
- The city rejected the request, claiming that meta-data was not a part of the definition of documents within the Arizona Public Records Law.
- Both the trial court and the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the city.
- Lake appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court.
Supporters of the FOIA request
A number of organizations submitted briefs in support of Lake, including the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona, Inc., the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Arizona Newspapers
Association. To see their amicus brief, please click here.
Ruling of the court
Both the trial court and the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the city, arguing that they lacked jurisdiction as the law did not apply to the meta-data being requested, citing Mathews v. Pyle as the common law standard of a definition for public records.
The Supreme Court overturned the decisions of the lower courts and ruled in favor of Lake.
The court determined that meta-data within an electronic document is a part of the document as much as the text itself and does not exist as an external record, separate from the document. The court further determined that Arizona law allows any individual to view the "real record" and not just copies of the record. Based on these two facts, the court overruled the decision of the court of appeals and declared that meta-data was to be included in the original "real record" and was subject to open records requests.