State Records Committee Appeal Hearing 2010-04
BEFORE THE STATE RECORDS COMMITTEE OF THE STATE OF UTAH
PAUL RICHINS, Petitioner, vs.
DAVIS COUNTY, Respondent.
DECISION AND ORDER
Case No. 10-4
By this appeal, Petitioner, Paul Richins seeks access to records held by Davis County relating to the assessment of property owned by Mr. Richins in Farmington, Utah.
On or about October 14, 2009, Mr. Richins submitted a Government Records Access and Management Act (“GRAMA”) request to Davis County regarding the tax assessment and valuation of his property in Farmington, Utah. Mr. Richins’ GRAMA request was denied by Davis County in a letter dated October 27, 2009. The basis of the denial was that Davis County determined that Mr. Richins’ requests were too broad and did not adequately specify a record to which he sought access.
In response to the decision, Mr. Richins submitted a new written request on October 30, 2009, wherein he attempted to clarify his GRAMA request and the nature of the records he sought. Davis County again denied Mr. Richins’ request by letter dated November 13, 2009 on substantially the same basis. Mr. Richins appealed the denial to Commissioner, P. Bret Milburn, who responded by letter dated December 24, 2009, again indicating that Mr. Richins’ request was not sufficiently specific.
Mr. Richins now appeals to the Utah State Record Committee (“Committee”). The Committee having reviewed the arguments submitted by the parties and having heard oral argument and testimony on February 11, 2010, now issues the following Decision and Order.
STATEMENT OF REASONS FOR DECISION
1. GRAMA specifies that “all records are public unless otherwise expressly provided by statute.” Utah Code Ann. § 63G-2-201(2). Records that are not public are designated as either “private,” “protected,” or “controlled.” See Utah Code Ann. §§ 63G-2-302, -303, -304 and –305.
2. A person making a request for a record is required to furnish the governmental entity with a written request containing a description of the record requested that identifies the record with “reasonable specificity.” Utah Code Ann. § 63G-2-204(1)(b). As soon as reasonably possible, the governmental entity shall respond to the request by: (1) approving the request and providing the record; (2) denying the request; (3) notifying the requester that it does not maintain the record and provide, if known, the name and address of the governmental entity that does maintain the record; or (4) notifying the requester that because of extraordinary circumstances, it cannot immediately approve or deny the request. Utah Code Ann. § 63G-2-204(3)(a).
3. At the hearing, Davis County argued that Mr. Richins’ requests did not comply with the “reasonable specificity” requirement of Utah Code Ann. § 63G-2-204(1)(b) because they were too broad, were more akin to “a discovery request,” and failed to identify specific records.
4. Mr. Richins countered that he had attempted to identify the specific records he sought from Davis County based upon the information he had, but because he was not privy to the specific “title” or ”name” of the records, he could not reasonably identify the documents/records to the extent being required by Davis County.
5. When establishing whether a records request is “reasonably specific," the Committee reviews a petitioner’s written request and determines whether the request sufficiently describes records which will allow the governmental entity to reasonably find the records containing the requested information.
6. The Committee having reviewed the submissions of the parties, including Mr. Richins’ October 30, 2009 written records request, and having heard argument at the hearing, is persuaded that Mr. Richins met his burden of identifying the records with “reasonable specificity” pursuant to Utah Code Ann. § 63G-2-201(7)(b) and -204(1)(b). Davis County knew or should have known from Mr. Richins’ records description that he was requesting records regarding Davis County’s assessment and market valuation of Mr. Richins’ property located in Farmington, Utah.
7. Accordingly, the Committee finds that Davis County’s denial of Mr. Richins’ records request based upon his alleged failure to identify the records with reasonable specificity was incorrect and should be reversed.
8. However, the Committee at this time cannot order the release of the requested records because Davis County has not categorized the records as public, protected, private, or controlled, (See, Utah Code Ann. § 63G-2-307(2)) and since Davis County has not conducted a search for the documents, the Committee has insufficient information to categorize the documents. Additionally, pursuant to Utah Code Ann. § 63G-2-203(8), a governmental entity may require payment of past fees and future estimated fees before beginning to process a request if the fees are expected to exceed $50.00.
THEREFORE, IT IS ORDERED THAT: the appeal of Petitioner, Paul Richins is upheld and Respondent Davis County shall conduct an adequate search for records responsive to Mr. Richins’ request, appropriately classify the records, and provide Mr. Richins with access and/or copies to all records he is legally entitled to receive. If Davis County determines that fees should be charged and are expected to exceed $50.00, pursuant to the provisions of Utah Code Ann. §63G-2-203(8), Davis County shall give Mr. Richins the opportunity to either accept or reject the anticipated fees prior to processing Mr. Richins’ records request.
RIGHT TO APPEAL
Either party may appeal this Decision and Order to the District Court. The petition for review must be filed no later than thirty (30) days after the date of this order. The petition for judicial review must be a complaint. The complaint and the appeals process are governed by the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure and Utah Code Ann. § 63G-2-404. The court is required to make its decision de novo. In order to protect its rights on appeal, a party may wish to seek advice from an attorney.
Pursuant to Utah Code Ann. § 63G-2-403(14)(d), the governmental entity herein shall comply with the order of the Committee and, if records are ordered to be produced, file: (1) a notice of compliance with the Committee upon production of the records; or (2) a notice of intent to appeal. If the governmental entity fails to file a notice of compliance or a notice of intent to appeal, the Committee may do either or both of the following: (1) Impose a civil penalty of up to $500 for each day of continuing noncompliance; or (2) Send written notice of the entity's noncompliance to the Governor for executive branch entities, to the Legislative Management Committee for legislative branch entities, and to the Judicial Council for judicial branch agencies’ entities.
Dated this 18th day of February 2010.
SCOTT WHITTAKER, Chairman
State Records Committee