Louisiana Public Records Act

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The Louisiana Public Records Act, also known as Louisiana's Sunshine Law, was enacted by the state's legislature in 1940.

The Louisiana Open Meeting Law legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted.

In 1974, Louisiana adopted a new State Constitution which included a provision establishing (for the first time) that public documents are presumed to be open for public inspection. The 1974 constitution says, "No person shall be denied the right to . . . examine public documents except in cases established by law." (La. Const. art. XII, § 3)

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

Relevant legal cases

See also: Court cases with an impact on state FOIA and Louisiana sunshine lawsuits

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

Lawsuit Year
Angelo Iafrate Constr., L.L.C. v. State of Louisiana 2004
Association of Rights of Citizens v. St. Bernard 1990
Bester v. Louisiana Supreme Court Commission on Bar Admissions 2000
Broderick v. State, Department of Environmental Quality 2000
Burkett v. UDS Management 1999
Capital City Press v. East Baton Rouge Parish Metropolitan Council 1997
Common Cause v. Morial 1987
Diggs v. Pennington 2003
Eastbank Consolidated Special Service Fire Protection District v. Crossen 2005
Elliott v. District Attorney of Baton Rouge 1995
First Commerce Title Co. Inc. v. Martin 2005
Hatfield v. Bush (I) 1989
Hatfield v. Bush (II) 1990
Hill v. East Baton Rouge Parish Department of Emergency Medical Services 2006
Hill v. Mamoulides 1986
Hilliard v. Litchfield 2002
Joseph v. Hospital Service District No. 2 of the Parish of St. Mary 2001
Kyle v. Perrilloux 2003
Landis v. Moreau 2001
Local 100, SEIU v. Smith 2003
Louisiana Supreme Court Commission on Bar Admissions v. Roberts 2001
Phillips v. Board of Supervisors of Louisiana State University 1980
Plaquemines Parish Council v. Petrovich 1994
Reeves v. Orleans Parish School Board 1973
St. Mary Anesthesia Association Inc. v. Hospital Service District No. 2 of Parish of St. Mary 2001
State of Louisiana v. Jean 2003
State of Louisiana v. Nicholls College Foundation 1992
Times Picayune Publishing Corp. v. Board of Supervisors 2003
Vourvoulias v. Movassaghi 2005


Proposed changes

2011

See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2011

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


2010

See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2010

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


2008

In 2007, Governor Bobby Jindal came to office with a stated goal of increasing transparency and accountability in Louisiana government. In 2008 several pieces of legislation were passed during a special session on ethics and accountability reform that lasted from February 10 to February 26.

Louisiana's transparency report card

A 2008 study, BGA - Alper Integrity Index, conducted by the Better Government Association and sponsored by Alper Services, ranked Louisiana #5 in the nation with an overall percentage of 61.40%.[1]

A 2007 study, Graded state responsiveness to FOI requests, conducted by BGA and the NFOIC, gave Louisiana 78 points out of a possible 100, a letter grade of "C," and a ranking of three out of the 50 states.[2]

A 2002 study, Freedom of Information in the USA, conducted by IRE and BGA, ranked Louisiana's law as the sixth best in the country, giving it a letter grade of "B-."[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.

The Louisiana Public Records Act does not have a clear declared legal intention.

What records are covered?

See also: Defining public records

Louisiana's sunshine law states that:

"[A]ll books, records, writings, accounts, letters and letter books, maps, drawings, photographs, cards, tapes, recordings, memoranda, and papers, and all copies, duplicates, photographs, including microfilm, or other reproductions thereof, or any other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, including information contained in electronic data processing equipment, having been used, being in use, or prepared, possessed, or retained for use in the conduct, transaction, or performance of any business, transaction, work, duty, or function which was conducted, transacted, or performed by or under the authority of the constitution or laws of this state, or by or under the authority of any ordinance, regulation, mandate, or order of any public body or concerning the receipt or payment of any money received or paid by or under the authority of the constitution or the laws of this state, are 'public records,' except as otherwise provided by the public records act or the Constitution of Louisiana."[4]

"Information contained in electronic data processing equipment" is specifically included in the definition of "public records." This includes any records stored in digital form, as well as all governmental e-mail records, except for any records specifically exempted under the law.[5]

Exemptions

Exemptions include:

  • 911 tapes are exempt from open records requests due to "privileged communications between a health care provider and patient," as determined by the 2006 court ruling Hill v. East Baton Rouge Parish Department of Emergency Medical Services.
  • Accident reports are open to parties of the accident, insurers, attorneys and "news gathering organizations."
  • Closed investigation records fall under the sunshine law; however, active investigations do not.

Deliberative process

See also: Deliberative process exemption

What agencies are covered?

See also: Defining public body

Governor's office

Records in the custody of the Governor's office are generally exempt. La. Rev. Stat. 36:4.1 (2002) says that the sunshine law does not apply to any records "ordinarily kept in the custody or control of the governor in the usual course of the duties and business of his office."

Other executives

The law applies to any "branch, department, office, agency, board, commission, governing authority, or any committee, subcommittee, advisory board or task force of any branch, department, office, agency, board or commission, or any instrumentality of the state."[6]

The records of executives other than the governor are subject to the law, including the State Board of Cosmetology, the State Racing Commission, the Office of Financial Institutions, the Cemetery Board, the State Board of Certified Public Accountants, the State Board of Architectural Examiners, the Real Estate Commission, the State Board of Home Inspectors, the State Licensing Board for Contractors, the State Radio and television Technicians Board, the Board of Examiners of Certified Shorthand Reporters, the Auctioneers Licensing Board, the State Board Examiners of Interior Designers, the Real Estate Appraisers State Board of Certification, the State Boxing and Wrestling Commission, the Used Motor Vehicle and Parts Commission,, the Polygraph Board, and the Manufactured Housing Commission.

Courts

Louisiana's sunshine law doesn't refer to the state's courts.

The Louisiana Supreme Court created an exception to the law based in its "inherent authority." In 2001, in Bester v. Louisiana Supreme Court Commission on Bar Admissions, the court exempted these documents from the law:

  • Bar examination model answers.
  • Materials related to the grading guidelines.
  • Materials related to an applicant's bar examinations.

These documents are not exempt according to the statute. In asserting that the documents were to be exempt, the state's highest court said that it had the "inherent authority" to create such exceptions.

Legislature

See also: Legislatures and transparency

While the Louisiana Public Records Act includes the legislature within its definition of public bodies, court decisions, including Copsey v. Baer, have held in favor of a limited legislative privileges and immunities exemption derived from the constitution, which could prevent the release of legislative records.[7]

Privatized governmental agencies

See also: Private agency, public dollars and Private agency, public dollars-Louisiana

Private entities that receive public funds and perform a public function are considered public bodies and are subject to the Louisiana Public Records Act.

Public universities

See also: Universities and open records

The definition of public body presumably includes public universities within the state.

Who may request records?

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

Until 2004, when the legislature amended the law to allow minors to receive copies of public records, those requesting records had to be "of the age of majority."[8]

Some people are not allowed to request records:

  • A convicted felon in custody may not request records unless the request is limited to grounds upon which the individual could file for post-conviction relief. See Hilliard v. Litchfield, a 2002 case.
  • Public bodies may not request records, although the individuals who make up a public body may make a request. See Plaquemines Parish Council v. Petrovich, a 1994 case.
  • The right to inspect records only applies to the person who actually made the request, even if that person is acting under the supervision of or at the direction of someone else. See Vourvoulias v. Movassaghi, a 2005 ruling.[9]

History

The 1940 and 1974 laws both limited who could ask for records to "state electors" and "state taxpayers."

This was changed in 1978, when the law was again altered, providing that:

  • "Any person of the age of majority" can examine public records in the state.
  • Penalties were set for government officials who failed to comply with the law.[10]

Who receives the request?

The custodian of public records is "the public official or head of any public body having custody or control of a public record, or a representative specifically authorized by him to respond to requests to inspect any such public records."[11]

A person is the "custodian" of a public record if he or she has "control" over the records at issue; physical possession is not required to make a government official the legal custodian of a document.

Must a purpose be stated?

See also: States requiring a statement of purpose

Records can be requested for any reason, which does not have to be given to the custodian of the records. The Custodian of the Records "shall make no inquiry of any person who applies for a public record, except an inquiry as to the age and identification of the person."[12]

How can records be used?

See also: Record use restrictions

There are no restrictions on what can be done with the public documents once a records requester has them in hand.

Time allowed for response

See also: Request response times by state

Section 44:32(D) of the relevant statute dictates that the custodian of the records must respond to requests within three days. Weekends and holidays are excluded from the three day countdown.[13] The custodian of the records is required to respond in some fashion within the three-day window even if the custodian is still engaged in a decision process about which, if any, of the requested records can be withheld. See Association of Rights of Citizens v. St. Bernard, a 1990 case.

Fees for records

Copy costs

See also: How much do public records cost?

No fee is charged to view public records as long as they ask to view the records during normal office hours. Custodians of records are allowed to charge a "reasonable fee" to requestors who ask to view records outside of normal office hours.[14]

Fees for copies of records are established by the custodian and must be "reasonable." Also:

  • Indigent persons who are state residents may be provided copies of records without charge or at a reduced charge.
  • If the custodian determines that copies of public documents will be used only for a "public purpose," the custodian may furnish them without charge or at a reduced charge. An example of a "public purpose" is the use of the records in a hearing before a governmental regulatory commission.
  • Two state appellate courts have reached opposite conclusions as to whether courts have the discretion to order that documents be provided to an inmate without charge or at a reduced charge. State of Louisiana v. Jean, 2003, said a court has discretion to order that copies be provided at no cost. Diggs v. Pennington, 2003, said a lower trial court did not err when it said it lacked the power to compel a state agency to provide a free report to an inmate.[15]

Search fees

See also: Sunshine laws and search fees

The act is silent as to whether or not reasonable fees includes the cost of searching for and assembling records.

State budget online

Article VII Section 12: "Reports and records of the collection, expenditure, investment, and use of state money and those relating to state obligations shall be matters of public record, except returns of taxpayers and matters pertaining to those returns."[16]

All forms of the State Budget are available for online viewing through the Office of Planning and Budget.[17]

Role of the Attorney General

See also: Role of the Attorney General

There is currently no provision within the state open records law that empowers the State Department of Law to enforce the right of the public to access governmental records.

Enforcement

Louisiana does not provide an ombudsman. A person whose attempts to gain access to public documents have been unsuccessful must turn to the district courts. These courts can enjoin the custodian from withholding records or issue a writ of mandamus ordering the production of any records improperly withheld from the requester. A records requestor can ask that a writ of mandamus be issued, or for other relief, after being denied the right to inspect records and after either (a) the custodian of the records has issued a final determination of denial in writing or (b) five business days from the date of the request have elapsed.

Penalties for non-compliance

To file suit against government non-compliance of the sunshine laws, action must be taken within 60 days of the violation. Any government official who "knowingly and willfully" participates in a meeting that violates the Open Meeting Law can be charged with a civil infraction of up to $100 per violation. The losing party in the suit will be responsible for court costs and reasonable attorney fees.

Open meetings

Article 12 Section 3 states, "No person shall be denied the right to observe the deliberations of public bodies and examine public documents, except in cases established by law."[18]

  • Every government entity holding an open meeting must allow time for public comment
  • Every school board meeting must allow public comment before every vote.
  • People who willfully disrupt a meeting so that business can not be conducted may be removed.
  • Each public entity may develop its own "reasonable rules, regulations and restrictions" on public comment and involvement for meetings.

Notable requests

ACLU 2008

In February 2008, the ACLU of Louisiana requested documents from the Orleans Parish Prison on prisoner deaths at the city jail. Sheriff Marlin Gusman said that the ACLU could have the documents, if they first gave him $1.75 million. After nearly a year of negotiations, the sheriff agreed to provide the documents for $1,007.00. The ACLU's executive director speculated that the sheriff was trying to hide conditions at the jail. The sheriff's department suggested that the ACLU's request was vague and unreasonable.[19]

See also

External links

References