State Records Committee Appeal Decision 2019-39
BEFORE THE STATE RECORDS COMMITTEE OF THE STATE OF UTAH
BRENT COBB, Petitioner, v.
UTAH DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Respondent.
DECISION AND ORDER
Case No. 19-39
By this appeal, Petitioner, Brent Cobb, seeks access to records held by Respondent, Utah Department of Corrections.
On June 26, 2019, the Utah Department of Corrections (“Corrections”) received a request for records pursuant to the Government Records Access and Management Act (“GRAMA”) from Mr. Cobb. Mr. Cobb requested records related to investigation reports. Mr. Cobb indicated that he was indigent and requested a fee waiver.
On or about June 28, 2019, Corrections denied the request informing Mr. Cobb that he had already reached Correction’s 100-page limit for free copies of records for the calendar year. Mr. Cobb appealed the denial to the Chief Administrative Officer, and James Hudspeth, Deputy Director for Corrections, upheld the denial noting that Mr. Cobb could again request a fee waiver during the next calendar year. Mr. Cobb filed an appeal with the State Records Committee (“Committee”). After hearing oral argument and testimony on November 14, 2019 and carefully considering the requested relief of the parties, the Committee issues the following Decision and Order.
STATEMENT OF REASONS FOR DECISION
1. A governmental entity may charge a reasonable fee to cover the governmental entity’s actual cost of providing a record. Utah Code § 63G-2-203(1). Actual costs may include the cost of staff time searching, retrieving, and other direct administrative costs complying with the request. Utah Code § 63G-2-203(2)(a)(ii). A hourly charge may not exceed the salary of the lowest paid employee who has the necessary skill and training to perform the request. Utah Code § 63G-2-203(2)(b). Additionally, no charge may be made for the first quarter hour of staff time. Utah Code § 63G-2-203(2)(c).
2. GRAMA specifies that a governmental entity “may fulfill a record request without charge” and is encouraged to do so when it determines that: (1) Releasing the record primarily benefits the public rather than a person; (2) The individual requesting the record is the subject of the record, or an individual specified in Subsection 63G-2-202(1) or (2); or (3) The requester’s legal rights are directly implicated by the information in the record, and the requester is impecunious. Utah Code § 63G-2-203(4)(a-c).
3. A person who believes that there has been an unreasonable denial of a fee waiver under Utah Code § 63G-2-203(4) may appeal the denial in the same manner as a person appeals when inspection of a public record is denied under Utah Code § 63G-2-205. Utah Code § 63G-2-203(6)(a). The adjudicative body hearing the appeal shall review the fee waiver de novo, but shall review and consider the governmental entity’s denial of the fee and any determination under Utah Code § 63G-2-203(4)(a-c). Utah Code § 63G-2-203(6)(b)(i). Additionally, the adjudicative body has the same authority when a fee waiver or reduction is denied as it has when the inspection of a public record is denied. Utah Code § 63G-2-203(6)(b)(ii).
4. Counsel for Corrections argued that Mr. Cobb should not receive a fee waiver because the records he requested do not benefit the public, Mr. Cobb’s rights are not directly implicated by the records, and Mr. Cobb may be able to obtain the records through a pending civil suit against Corrections. Counsel also noted that Corrections had already provided Mr. Cobb 300 pages of records free of charge in 2019, which is well above the 100 pages allotted pursuant to Corrections’ policy.
5. After having reviewed the evidence presented, and the written and oral arguments of the parties, the Committee finds that Corrections’ denial of Mr. Cobb’s request for a fee waiver was not an unreasonable denial. Mr. Cobb has not shown that he is entitled to a fee waiver pursuant to Utah Code § 63G-2-203(4)(a, - c). Additionally, Corrections had already provided Mr. Cobb with 300 pages of records free of charge in 2019, and the Committee is persuaded that this is not an unreasonable denial pursuant to Utah Code § 63G-2-203(4)(b).
THEREFORE, IT IS ORDERED THAT the appeal of Petitioner, Brent Cobb, is hereby DENIED.
RIGHT TO APPEAL
A party to a proceeding before the Committee may seek judicial review in District Court of a Committee's Order by filing a petition for review of the Committee Order as provided in Utah Code § 63G-2-404. Utah Code § 63G-2-403(14). A petition for judicial review of a Committee Order "shall be filed no later than 30 days" after the date of the Committee Order. Utah Code § 63G-2-404(1)(a). The petition for judicial review must be a complaint which is governed by the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure and include the Committee as a necessary party and contain the required information listed in Subsection -404(2). Utah Code § 63G-2-404(1) & (2). The court shall make its decision de novo but shall allow introduction of evidence presented to the Committee, determine all questions of fact and law without a jury, and decide the issue at the earliest practical opportunity. Utah Code § 63G-2-404(6). In order to protect a parties’ rights on appeal, a party may wish to seek advice from an attorney.
Pursuant to Utah Code § 63G-2-403(15)(c), if the Committee orders the governmental entity to produce a record and no appeal is filed, the government entity herein shall comply with the order of the Committee and shall: (1) Produce the record; and (2) File a notice of compliance with the Committee. If the governmental entity ordered to produce a record 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. Utah Code § 63G-2-403(15)(d)(i)(B). In imposing a civil penalty, the Committee shall consider the gravity and circumstances of the violation, including whether the failure to comply was due to neglect or was willful or intentional. Utah Code § 63G-2-403(15)(d)(ii).
Entered this 25th day of November 2019
BY THE STATE RECORDS COMMITTEE
TOM HARALDSEN, Chairperson
State Records Committee
Page Last Updated November 25, 2019 .