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North Carolina Public Records Law

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The North Carolina Public Records Law is designed to guarantee that the public has access to public records of governmental bodies in North Carolina. The first statute dealing with public documents in the state was passed in 1935. This law focused on the duty of government officials to preserve public records carefully.

The North Carolina Open Meetings Law legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted.

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

Relevant legal cases

See also: Court cases with an impact on state FOIA

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

Lawsuit Year
City of Burlington v. Boney Publishers 2004
Coats v. Sampson County Memorial Hospital, Inc. 1965
Maready v. City of Winston-Salem 1996
McCormick v. Hanson Aggregates Southeast 2004
News & Observer v. Interim Board of Education for Wake County 1976
News and Observer Publishing Co. v. Wake County Hospital System 1981
Student Bar Association v. Byrd 1977

Proposed changes


See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2011

We do not have any legislation for North Carolina in 2011.


See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2010

We do not have any legislation for North Carolina in 2010.


See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2009
  • In July 2009, the North Carolina House of Representatives Finance Committee approved a bill that would reduce a judge's discretion to deny attorney fees to people or media outlets when they win a lawsuit against a local or state government agency in North Carolina that has illegally refused to provide requested records. The proposed legislation would also create a unit in the state attorney's general office to deal with complaints about government agencies failing to provide documents.[1]

Transparency report card

A 2008 study, BGA - Alper Integrity Index, conducted by the Better Government Association and sponsored by Alper Services, ranked North Carolina #23 in the nation with an overall percentage of 52.40%.[3]

A 2007 study, Graded state responsiveness to FOI requests, conducted by BGA and the NFOIC, gave North Carolina 34 points out of a possible 100, a letter grade of "F" and a ranking of 40 out of the 50 states.[4]

A 2002 study, Freedom of Information in the USA, conducted by IRE and BGA, ranked North Carolina's law as the 43rd worst in the country, giving it a letter grade of "D-."[5]

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 law's statement of purpose reads, "The public records and public information compiled by the agencies of North Carolina government or its subdivisions are the property of the people. Therefore, it is the policy of this State that the people may obtain copies of their public records and public information free or at minimal cost unless otherwise specifically provided by law."[6]

What records are covered?

See also: Defining public records

Records include all documents, no matter the physical form, "made or received pursuant to law or ordinance in connection with the transaction of public business by any agency."[7]


Notable exceptions include but are not limited to:

  • Attorney-client privilege
  • Tax records
  • Billing information for any services owned by local governments
  • Address confidentiality program[8]
  • Controlled substances reporting
  • Admissions information for state universities
  • Trade secrets
  • Account numbers and signatures[9]
  • Telecommunications security
  • Law enforcement investigations[10]
  • 9-1-1 system information[11]
  • Emergency response plan[12]
  • Security information[13]
  • Autopsy photos[14]
  • Trial preparation materials[15]
  • Personal information including social security numbers[16]
  • Economic developments and incentives planning records[17]
  • Personal records of minors registered in any Parks and Recreation department[18]

North Carolina law also requires departments to separate exempt and non-exempt material when found in the same source, and release the non-exempt material upon request.[19]

Deliberative process

See also: Deliberative process exemption

What agencies are covered?

See also: Defining public body

Agencies include all branches and divisions of government at both the state and local level.[20]


See also: Legislatures and transparency

The legislature falls under the definition of public body found at North Carolina Law 132-1 and is subject to the North Carolina Public Records Law.

Privatized governmental agencies

See also: Private agency, public dollars and Private agency, public dollars-North Carolina

Coats v. Sampson County Memorial Hospital, Inc. established that the North Carolina Public Records Law applies to all private entities that perform governmental functions.

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

Anyone may request public records in North Carolina. The law explicitly states that public records are open to inspection by "any person."[21]

Must a purpose be stated?

See also: States requiring a statement of purpose

North Carolina law explicitly states that no individual making a request for records will be required to state a purpose.[22]

How can records be used?

See also: Record use restrictions

There are no restrictions placed on the use of records.

Time allowed for response

See also: Request response times by state

North Carolina is one of 17 states that sets no absolute deadline for government agencies to fulfill FOIA requests. Section § 132-6 of the NCGS states that a custodian of public records shall make them available "at reasonable times and under reasonable supervision by any person, and shall, as promptly as possible, furnish copies thereof upon payment of any fees as may be prescribed by law."[23]

Fees for records

Copy costs

See also: How much do public records cost?

North Carolina establishes two different types of records with two different fees. For un-certified copies, the department may charge only the actual cost of duplication not including the labor involved. The law indicates that fees for certified copies will be as indicated by law but does not indicate what law.[24]

Search fees

See also: Sunshine laws and search fees

North Carolina law does not permit public bodies to charge search fees for standard requests. However, if the search is expansive and requires a great deal of staff time, an additional special fee may be charged.[25]

Role of the Attorney General

See also: Role of the Attorney General

Although the state Attorney General does issue opinions in response to requests made by public officials to interpret the state's public records law and publishes a guide for the general public, the state Law Department plays no specific role in the enforcement of the law.

Open meetings

See also: North Carolina Open Meetings Law

North Carolina's Open Meetings Law was originally enacted in 1971.

See also

External links