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Monday, November 17, 2014

Ind. Gov't. - Two significant decisions from the Public Access Counselor

14-FC-247: Alleged Violation(s) of the Access to Public Records Act by the Marion County Board of Voter Registration - Blogger Gary Welsh writes about this ruling here.

14-FC-246: Alleged Violation of the Access to Public Records Act by the City of Hammond - Here the City of Hammond denied a public records request for "the delineated dollar amounts of any settlement, attorneys’ fees and other associated legal costs for three lawsuits in which the City was named a defendant." More from the ruling:

The City responded to your formal request by stating the same and considered the request improper. It interprets your request to seek documents which do not exist, specifically a summary of the litigation and associated costs. It maintains the City does not have any records to satisfy your request. * * *

After reviewing your original request, it appears as if what you are asking for is relatively straight-forward. It may be true that the information is not in one particular document or is summarized succinctly, but you identify the type of public records sought with an element of specificity. I have often held that a requester does not need to identify a record with pinpoint accuracy, but must give the agency an idea of what it should be looking for.

This is consistent with the Court of Appeal’s decision in Jent v. Fort Wayne Police Dep't, 973 N.E.2d 30 (2012):

Whether a request identifies with reasonable particularity the record being requested turns, in part, on whether the person making the request provides the agency with information that enables the agency to search for, locate, and retrieve the records.
While this interpretation places the subjective discretion on the agency to determine whether they can search for and retrieve the records, it is my subjective opinion that your request gives enough information for search parameters. In terms of the litigation documentation, you identify the party names and cause number. If the case was indeed settled, there will be a settlement agreement or decree. If there are attorneys’ fees and associated costs, there will be invoices from the law firm or expenditure reports. The City is under no obligation to create a summary of this information, but rather the documentation itself showing these expenses. [ILB emphasis]

The City has not contended that it has no capacity or ability to search for these types of records. I do not agree with them that you strictly asked for records which do not yet exist.

CONCLUSION. For the foregoing reasons, it is the Opinion of the Indiana Public Access Counselor that the City of Hammond has violated the Access to Public Records Act.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on November 17, 2014 05:01 PM
Posted to Indiana Government