Friday, October 04, 2013
Ind. Gov't. - What is "reasonable particularity" under the Access to Public Records Act?
Here are some quotes from a Sept. 30, 2013 response of the Indiana Public Access Counselor, Luke H. Britt, to an inquiry from the City of Jasper:
BackgroundILB: Also of interest may be this March 14, 2013 ILB post re "What does 'reasonable particularity' mean as a requirement for records requests under the Access to Public Records Act?" quoting a column by Steve Key, executive director and general counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association.
On August 19, 2013, the Editor/Publisher for the Dubois County Free Press, Mr. Matt Crane, submitted a request to the City of Jasper (“City”) for copies of the following records:“[a]ny letters of intent to sue the city has received in 2013. Letters or notices regarding impending lawsuits against (sic) the City of Jasper and its Dept’s (sic)”It is unclear if you responded to this request; however, you submitted a request for an Informal Opinion on September 10, 2013.
As applicable here, the City does not feel the request was stated with reasonable particularity and seeks an opinion to clarify the meaning of reasonable particularity as defined in Ind. Code § 5-14-3-3(a)(1).
Analysis * * *
The APRA requires that a records request “identify with reasonable particularity the record being requested.” Ind. Code § 5-14-3-3(a)(1). “Reasonable particularity” is not defined in the APRA, but the public access counselor has repeatedly opined “when a public agency cannot ascertain what records a requester is seeking, the request likely has not been made with reasonable particularity.” Ops. of the Public Access Counselor 10-FC-57; 08-FC-176; 12-FC-13.
Because the public policy of the APRA favors disclosure and the burden of proof for nondisclosure is placed on the public agency, if an agency needs clarification of a request, the agency should contact the requestor for more information rather than simply deny the request. See generally Ind. Code § 5-14-3-1; Opinion of the Public Access Counselor 02-FC-13. * * *
The Public Access Counselor is not a finder of fact; therefore, I cannot state with confidence whether the City has an extraordinary amount of records relating to pending litigation. Taken at face value, it would not seem the City the size of Jasper would have a large volume of threatened lawsuits. That being said, if taken for fact and the records requested are voluminous in nature, it is reasonable you deny the request and negotiate with Mr. Crane that he submit clarification of the records he seeks.
As provided in prior advisory opinions, if an agency needs clarification of a request or believes the request is not reasonably particular, the proper response by the agency would be to seek further clarification rather than denying the request. Accordingly, I strongly encourage any public agency to work with a requestor to come to a mutual understanding of the records being sought. You state “such a request appears to be a fishing expedition”. Please be advised the individual requesting the records does not have to state the purpose for the request (Ind. Code § 5-14-3-3(a)(2).
A responsive, cooperative and communicative agency is a transparent agency. You state it is “always the desire of the City to cooperate with reasonable requests for information.” That epitomizes the spirit of open access and transparency and I strongly encourage the City to make the very best efforts to follow that philosophy.
And related may be this Oct. 2nd ILB post, headed "Jasper biomass lawsuit pricetag exceeds $500,000 (so far)."
Posted by Marcia Oddi on October 4, 2013 12:46 PM
Posted to Indiana Government