State Records Committee Appeal Decision 2020-55
BEFORE THE STATE RECORDS COMMITTEE OF THE STATE OF UTAH
CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY, Petitioner, v.
SEVEN COUNTY INFRASTRUCTURE COALITION. Respondent.
DECISION AND ORDER
Case No. 20-55
By this appeal, Petitioner, the Center for Biological Diversity, seeks access to records allegedly held by Respondent, Seven County Infrastructure Coalition.
On February 7, 2020, Petitioner submitted via e-mail a request to Respondent a request for records pursuant to the Government Records Access and Management Act (“GRAMA”). Petitioner requested records related to the Uinta Basin Railway Project including memoranda, studies, findings, and minutes. In a letter dated May 22, 2020, Respondent’s Records Officer provided records responsive to Petitioner’s request, but denied access to documents classified as protected pursuant to Utah Code § 63G-2-305. The Records Officer stated that Respondent “will only provide you with redacted copies of responsive documents.”
In a letter dated June 19, 2020, Petitioner filed an appeal with Michael McKee, Executive Director for Respondent, arguing that the records should be disclosed unredacted as public records. In a letter dated July 9, 2020, Mr. McKee partially granted and partially denied the appeal, finding that some of the records should only be provided with redactions pursuant to Utah Code § 63G-2-305.
Petitioner filed an appeal with the State Records Committee (“Committee”), and on November 12, 2020, the Committee held a hearing during which the parties were allowed to participate electronically and present their arguments. After carefully considering the requested relief of the parties, the Committee 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 § 63G-2-201(2). Records that are not public are designated as either “private,” “protected,” or “controlled.” See, Utah Code §§ 63G-2-302, -303, -304 and -305.
2. Counsel for Respondent stated that over 1,600 pages had been provided to Petitioner. However, counsel argued that the records that were withheld with redactions were attorney invoices that had been redacted pursuant to the attorney-client privilege exceptions found under Utah Code § 63G-2-305(17) & (18).
3. After having considered the written and oral arguments of the parties and reviewing the disputed records in camera, the Committee finds that the redactions made by Respondent were properly classified as protected information pursuant to Utah Code § 63G-2-305(17) & (18).
THEREFORE, IT IS ORDERED THAT the appeal of Petitioner, Center for Biological Diversity 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 23 day of November 2020
BY THE STATE RECORDS COMMITTEE
Chair, State Records Committee
Page Last Updated November 23, 2020 .