I. STATUTE -- BASIC APPLICATION

In North Dakota, all public records are open records, unless there is a specific statutory exception of a particular type of record. The North Dakota Constitution states:

Unless otherwise provided by law, all records of public or governmental bodies, boards, bureaus, commissions, or agencies of the state or any political subdivision of the state, or organizations or agencies supported in whole or in part by public funds, or expending public funds, shall be public records, open and accessible for inspection during reasonable office hours.

North Dakota Constitution, Article XI, Section 6.

The North Dakota open records statute contains essentially the same language:

Except as otherwise specifically provided by law, all records of a public entity are public records, open and accessible for inspection during reasonable office hours.

N.D.C.C. § 44-04-18(1).

The North Dakota Supreme Court has concluded, “Thus, for an exception to the open-records law to exist under our constitutional and statutory provisions, it must be specific, i.e., the Legislature must directly address the status of the record in question, for a specific exception, by the plain terms of those provisions, may not be implied.” Hovet v. Hebron Pub. Sch. Dist., 419 N.W.2d 189 (N.D. 1988).

Although the state constitution and the statute are clear that unless an express exception applies, public records are open records, there are nonetheless specific statutes declaring that certain records are open records. For example, the statutes address the records of the State Highway Department (N.D.C.C. § 24-02-11), the State Engineer (N.D.C.C. § 61-03-06), the Water Conservation Commission (N.D.C.C. § 61-02-11), school districts (N.D.C.C. § 15.1-07-25), and irrigation district boards of directors (N.D.C.C. § 61-06-21.1). Additionally, city real property assessment rolls (N.D.C.C. § 40-19-03) and master lists of potential jurors (N.D.C.C. § 27-09.1-05) are listed as open records.