Blog

The California Public Records Act: A Valuable Discovery Tool

The California Public Records Act (Gov. Code §§ 6250 – 6277) provides a useful mechanism for obtaining records from public entities.

Many people are surprised to learn that generally “[p]ublic records are open to inspection at all times during the office hours of the state or local agency and every person has a right to inspect any public record.” (Gov. Code § 6253(a).) The public agency generally must permit copying of the records upon request. (Gov. Code § 6253(b).)

There are a number of exceptions set forth at sections 6253.2, 6253.5, 6253.6, 6254, 6254.1-6254.22, 6255, 6267, 6268, and 6276.02-6276.48.

Which Public Entities are Subject to the Public Records Act?

The Act applies to all state and local agencies including every state office, officer, department, division, bureau, board, and commission or other state body or agency, a county, city, city and county, school district, municipal corporation, district, political subdivision, or any board, commission or agency thereof, other local public agency, or entities that are legislative bodies of a local agency. (Gov. Code § 6252(a), (f).)

Courts, the Legislature, and Federal Agencies are excluded from coverage. (Gov. Code § 6252.) However, records may be obtained from these agencies pursuant to the Legislative Open Records Act (Gov. Code §§ 9070-9080), or the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. § 552.).

Which Records are Subject to the Public Records Act?

“Public records” includes 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. (Gov. Code § 6252(e).)

Many records are exempted however. These include:

  • Police reports and arrest records (Pen. Code §§ 11075, 11105, 11105.1)
  • Records concerning pending litigation (Gov. Code §§ 6254(b), 6254.25; Register Div. of Freedom Newspapers, Inc. v. County of Orange (1984) 158 Cal. App. 3d 893)
  • Personnel and medical records containing private details (Gov. Code § 6254(c))
  • Attorney-client discussions (Gov. Code §§ 6254(k), 6254.25, 6276.04)
  • Records tending to impair the deliberative process if “the public interest served by not making the record[s] public clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record[s].”  (Gov. Code § 6255; Times Mirror v. Superior Ct. (1991) 53 Cal.3d 1325)
  • Home addresses (Gov. Code §§ 6254(f), (u), 6254.1, 6254.3, 6254.4, 6254.16, 6254.21)
  • Tax, welfare, and family/adoption/ birth records (Gov. Code §§ 6254(d), (k), (l), 6276)

This is not an exhaustive list. Practitioners should be aware there are many exceptions that may apply depending on the circumstances of the particular case.

The Agency’s Response

Prompt access during business hours for inspection should be granted. (Gov. Code §§ 6253(a)), 6253(d), 6253.4(b).) The agency must assist with identification of records pertaining to the request. (Gov. Code § 6253.1.) The agency must respond to the request within 10 days. In certain situations (e.g. voluminous records, records stored off site) the agency may have 14 additional days to respond. (Gov. Code § 6253(c), (d).)

Conclusion

Counsel and the professionals they represent should consider utilizing the Public Records Act as a low cost yet effective discovery tool.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Reece Román is an associate at Tyson & Mendes LLP. He specializes in personal injury, employment, professional liability, and business litigation. Contact Reece at (858) 263-4137 or rroman@tysonmendes.com.

Download the full article here.