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5. Pleading format


  • Alabama

    There are no special pleading formats or rules for Public Records suits. Alabama follows notice pleading rules.  Ala. R. Civ. P. 8 requires only a short and plain statement of the claim entitling the plaintiff to relief and a demand for judgment. A complaint for declaratory relief and injunction is the typical pleading in most recent cases.  Requests for temporary restraining orders or injunctions should comply with Rule 65 of the Alabama Rules of Civil procedure.

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  • Alaska

    Pleadings must be in the normal format prescribed by court rules. While the regulations governing public records requests to state agencies use traditional language of administrative agency law, including the fact that a denial "is the final agency decision" and can be appealed to the superior court, so that one might argue the normal 30-day period for bringing an appeal from a final agency action would be applicable, support for argument to the contrary may be found in the fact that it may be sought without exhausting administrative remedies at all pursuant to AS 40.25.125.

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  • Arizona

    (This section is blank. See the point above.)

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  • Arkansas

    The normal rules of pleading that govern civil cases presumably apply in FOIA suits. See Rule 8, Ark. R. Civ. P. Arkansas is a “fact pleading” jurisdiction with requirements more stringent than those applicable in federal court. See Harvey v. Eastman Kodak Co., 271 Ark. 783, 610 S.W.2d 582 (1981) (explaining Ark. R. Civ. P. 8(a)). More informal pleading may be permissible in FOIA cases, however, because the act refers to a “petition” that is to be filed in an “appeal” to the appropriate circuit court. Ark. Code Ann. § 25-19-107(a) & (b). There being no reported cases on this point, a FOIA plaintiff should follow the general pleading rules. Cf. Dauer v. Ponder, 274 Ark. 166, 623 S.W.2d 3 (1981).

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  • California

    The CPRA provides that one may seek injunctive or declaratory relief or a writ of mandate to enforce his or her right to inspect or to receive a copy of any public record. Cal. Gov't Code § 7923.000. In California, the pleading format for injunctive and declaratory relief is a complaint. The proper pleading form for a writ of mandate is a verified petition. Because one section of the CPRA refers to the procedure as a "verified petition," the initial pleadings, whether a complaint or petition, should be verified. See Cal. Gov't Code § 7923.100.

    The choice of procedures to use may depend upon local court rules and practices in the county where the action is filed. The declaratory relief procedure enables the court to enter a prospective order governing future rights of access to the records. The petition procedure offers the advantage that the hearing procedure can frequently be expedited.

    Where the petition procedure is used, a party will typically seek an alternative writ directing disclosure of the public records or requiring the agency to appear at a hearing to show cause why a peremptory writ directing disclosure should not issue. The court, in its discretion, will issue the alternative writ and order to show cause to the public agency, which may be made returnable within a few days, but usually not longer than the general notice period for law and motion matters. The CPRA provides that the court set the time for responsive pleadings and hearings "with the object of securing a decision as to such matters at the earliest possible time." Cal. Gov't Code § 7923.005.

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  • Colorado

    See C.R.C.P. 121(c)§ 1-20.

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  • Connecticut

    Pleading format is that of a regular civil action.

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  • Delaware

    General rules of pleading are typically followed. Where a citizen’s action, seeking a writ of mandamus to compel county officials to produce various documents that were requested in the context of another lawsuit relating to alleged campaign improprieties, was brought under Delaware’s FOIA, the court found that as to certain requests, the record was unclear as to whether mandamus was the only available relief obtaining for those documents. Mell v. New Castle Cnty., 835 A.2d 141 (Del. Super. 2003).

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  • District of Columbia

    The Superior Court rules apply.

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  • Florida

    The extraordinary writ of mandamus is used to gain judicial access to public records.  The writ of mandamus should allege that the defendants are custodians of the public records sought and that the defendants refused to produce such records for inspection.  See Town of Manalapan v. Rechler, 674 So. 2d 789, 790 (Fla. 4th DCA 1996) (“[M]andamus was an appropriate remedy to compel the timely production of public records request under Chapter 119.”); Donner v. Edelstein, 415 So. 2d 830 (Fla. 3d DCA 1982). This conforms to the general rule that to show entitlement to the extraordinary writ of mandamus, a petitioner must demonstrate a clear legal right on his/her part, an indisputable legal duty on the part of the respondents and that no other adequate remedy exists. See, e.g.Clay Cnty. Educ. Ass’n v. Clay Cnty. Sch. Bd., 144 So. 3d 708, 709 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014); State ex rel. Eichenbaum v. Cochron, 114 So. 2d 797 (Fla. 1959); Poole v. City of Port Orange, 33 So. 3d 739 (Fla. 5th DCA 2010).  “The statute contemplates a complaint, counterclaim or cross-claim,” and the filing of a motion for accelerated hearing alone does not “substitute for the filing of a complaint for enforcement of the public records law.”  Claudio v. Clerk of Cir. Ct., 128 So. 3d 830, 832 (Fla. 5th DCA 2013) (citing Fla. Stat. § 119.11(4)).

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  • Georgia

    Suits to enforce the Act are typically initiated by filing with the court a verified complaint against the custodian of the records, specifying and attaching the request, which now must be in writing, and the custodian's response (or lack thereof), and explaining the alleged violation of the Act and a description of the relief sought. Where the custodian has refused to allow access, the complaint typically seeks issuance of an injunction requiring the custodian to afford access now, and in the future, and is accompanied by a motion and supporting memorandum to the same effect. Where time is an issue, the motion should request entry of an immediate injunction and request that the court hear the matter on an emergency basis.

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  • Hawaii

    See Haw. R. Civ. P.; Haw. R. Cir. Ct.

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  • Idaho

    The only particular pleading format requirement is that the action be styled as a “petition.” Idaho Code § 74-115(1). Otherwise, the pleading should mirror a complaint and contain the basic facts of the request, the denial, the agency involved and other facts underlying the claim.

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  • Illinois

    There is no particular format prescribed by the statute; the pleading format should simply take the form of a civil complaint filed in that court, see Illinois Code of Civil Procedure, 735 ILCS 5/1-101 to 22-105, and allege a request and an improper denial. The prayer for relief should include a request for attorneys’ fees and costs. If the requester believes that the public body acted in bad faith in denying access to the records, a request for civil penalties may be added.  5 ILCS 140/11.

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  • Indiana

    Pleading forms are governed by Rule 10 of the Indiana Rules of Trial Procedure. Pleading captions must include the names of the parties, the title of the action, the court and case number. The pleadings must be signed, and copies served on all other parties or their counsel.

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  • Iowa

    Pleading format is governed by the Iowa Rules of Civil Procedure. See e.g., Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.401-1.423.

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  • Kansas

    No particular format is specified; the action is a civil suit governed by K.S.A. Chapter 60.

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  • Kentucky

    Kentucky’s Open Records Act does not provide for any specific pleading format. Pleading formats in Kentucky’s Circuit Courts are governed generally by the Kentucky Rules of Civil Procedure and more specifically by local rules of the various Circuits.

    To receive priority on the docket the pleading should alert the Circuit Court that the lawsuit concerns the Open Records Act. See Ky. Rev. Stat. 61.882(4).

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  • Louisiana

    Not specified. Cases usually are brought as requests for a writ of mandamus directed to the custodian of the requested records.

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  • Maine

    The pleading is in the form of a statutory appeal pursuant to 1 M.R.S.A. § 409(1). The appeal is from the governmental agency’s administrative action denying access to the record.  The appeal should include a concise statement of the grounds on which the plaintiff contends that relief should be awarded, and the specific relief sought. A pleading typically describes the records sought (and attaches the request and the response), applicable law requiring disclosure, and the agency’s response.  “[T]he court has discretion to determine the process necessary for the resolution of disputed facts, giving due consideration to the efficacy, costs, and time required for each method of presentation of evidence.”  Dubois v. Dept. of Envtl. Prot., 2017 ME 224 ¶ 10, 174 A.3d 314, 317 (Me. 2017).

    The rules of procedure governing administrative appeals form state and municipal administrative decisions, M.R. Civ. P. 80C and 80B, do not apply to FOAA appeals.  Dubois v. Town of Arundel, 2019 ME 21, ¶ 5, 202 A.3d 524, 527.  For purposes of a FOAA appeal, the Superior Court is the forum of origin for consideration of the facts and the law; the court does not “act in an appellate capacity because  . . . the statute contemplate[s] that the court will take evidence and act in a fact-finding role.”   Dubois v. Office of the Attorney General, 2018 ME 67, ¶ 7 n.3, 185 A.3d 734.

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  • Maryland

    The complainant files a complaint with the circuit court and the defendant files an answer or otherwise pleads to the complaint within thirty days after service of the complaint. § 4-362(a) and (b). The defendant may submit a memorandum in support of its decision to deny access. § 4-362(b)(2)(ii).

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  • Massachusetts

    Complaint. Massachusetts has in substance adopted the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

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  • Michigan

    Public records are prima facie disclosable to any person who makes an adequate request. Booth Newspapers, Inc. v. Regents of the Univ. of Mich., 93 Mich. App. 100, 286 N.W.2d 55, 59 n.9 (1979). The complainant need not allege that the materials sought are not subject to statutory exemption. Exemption is a defense in actions brought under the FOIA. Id. at 60. The application of exemptions requiring legal determinations are reviewed de novo, while the application of exemptions requiring determinations of a discretionary nature are reviewed under a clearly erroneous standard. Federated Publ’ns, Inc. v. City of Lansing, 467 Mich. 98, 649 N.W.2d 383 (2002) abrogated on other grounds by Herald Co. v. E. Mich. Univ. Bd. of Regents, 475 Mich. 463 (2006). The burden is on the public body to sustain denial of the request, Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 15.240(4), but in applying the public interest balancing test, the circuit court should consider the fact that records have been made exemptible under section 15.243(1)(s). Federated Publ’ns, 649 N.W.2d at 385.

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  • Minnesota

    Minn. Stat. § 13.08 does not require pleading in any specific format. The assumption is that such a suit will follow the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure.

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  • Mississippi

    Mississippi's rules of civil procedure generally follow the federal rules.

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  • Missouri

    An action under the Sunshine Law does not have any particular pleading requirements different from any other civil action. Because a petition failed to allege that the village’s custodian of records had actually received a citizen’s request for access to information, the citizen failed to state a claim for violation of the Sunshine Law. Anderson v. Jacksonville, 103 S.W.3d 190 (Mo.Ct.App. 2003). A citizen also failed to state a claim for violation of the Sunshine Law when his pleadings “did not demonstrate the records requested were public records of a governmental body” because the information he sought was not available in an existing document possessed by the public government body. Douglas v. Office of the State Courts Administrator, 470 S.W.3d 29, 30 (Mo.Ct.App. 2015). Once the party seeking judicial enforcement of the Sunshine Law demonstrates the body in question is subject to the Sunshine Law and has held a closed meeting, record or vote, the burden shifts to the governmental body to demonstrate compliance with the Sunshine Law. Mo.Rev.Stat. § 610.027.2.  See also, Pennington v. Dobbs, 235 S.W.3d 77, 79 (Mo.Ct.App. 2007) (petitions in cases in which a governmental body refused or failed to respond to a Sunshine Law request need to allege a request for public record, that the custodian of the record received the request and the custodian did not timely respond).

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  • Montana

    A simple petition for relief setting forth the facts supporting the denial of access, as well as a description of the document requested and the relief sought, is sufficient to bring the matter before the district court. See Board of Trustees v. Board of County Commissioners, 186 Mont. 148, 606 P.2d 1069 (1980).

    The special writs of mandamus and prohibition are inappropriate. A simple petition to the court alleging the violations is all that is required. See Goyen v. City of Troy, 276 Mont. 213, 915 P.2d 824 (1996).

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  • Nebraska

    No statutory provision regarding pleading of public record violation. See Neb. Rev. Stat. §25-2156 to 25-2169 (Reissue 2016) for general mandamus requirements.

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  • Nevada

    Either a suit filed under the Nevada Rules of Civil Procedure or a petition for a writ of mandate under Chapter 34 of Nevada Revised Statutes may be appropriate.

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  • New Hampshire

    The petition will be deemed sufficient "if it states facts constituting a violation of this chapter." RSA 91-A:7

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  • New Jersey

    A suit to obtain access to records is styled with the party seeking access as the plaintiff and the public agency and/or the record custodian as the defendant. A complaint to the Government Records Council merely must be a writing alleging that a custodian has improperly denied access. N.J.S.A. 47:1A-7(d).

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  • New Mexico

    Normal pleading format.

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  • New York

    An Article 78 proceeding is commenced by service of a notice of petition and verified petition. N.Y. Civ. Prac. L. & R. § 7804(c). See generally DiChiara v. Chesworth, 139 A.D.2d 647, 527 N.Y.S.2d 284 (2d Dep’t 1988) (service of notice of petition and petition by ordinary mail was insufficient). The verified petition may be accompanied by affidavits or other written proof. Subsequent pleadings include a verified answer, which must state pertinent and material facts, and a reply to any new matter in the answer. N.Y. Civ. Prac. L. & R. § 7804(d) (McKinney 1981). See Walker v. Slaaten, Index No. 3305/90 (Sup. Ct., Westchester Cty. 1992) (failure to name record custodian in initial proceeding limits court’s power to enforce disclosure order).

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  • North Carolina

    1. Pleading format

    G.S. § 132-9 does not prescribe any particular form of pleadings, but most public records cases are commenced by the filing of a petition.

    G.S. § 7A-38.3E(b) provides: “Subsequent to filing a civil action under Chapter 132 of the General Statutes, a person shall initiate mediation pursuant to this section. Such mediation shall be initiated no later than 30 days from the filing of responsive pleadings with the clerk in the county where the action is filed.”

    However, subsection (e) says that “[t]he parties to the dispute may waive the mediation required by this section by informing the mediator of the parties' waiver in writing. No costs shall be assessed to any party if all parties waive mediation prior to the occurrence of an initial mediation meeting.”

    Mediation can be requested and/or waived in the initial pleadings.

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  • North Dakota

    The complaint must be accompanied by a dated, written request for the requested record. N.D.C.C. § 44-04-21.2(1).

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  • Ohio

    The party bringing suit must seek a writ of mandamus. Doing so requires suing in the name of the state of Ohio, i.e., "State of Ohio, ex rel. John Doe," or "State ex rel. John Doe." Ohio Rev. Code § 2731.04.

    The party bringing suit is called the "relator," and the parties being sued are called "respondents."

    Also, in addition to pleading the basic circumstances demonstrating that the party suing is "aggrieved" by the public office's failure to comply with the public records statute, the party bringing suit should plead the following elements: (1) the party made a demand upon the public office for public records, which the public office has actually or effectively denied, (2) the party has a clear legal right to the relief sought from the public office and the public office has a clear legal duty to provide the relief, (3) Ohio Rev. Code § 149.43(C) authorizes the court to issue a writ of mandamus, and (4) there is no adequate alternative remedy in the ordinary course of the law. But see State ex rel. Lucas County Board of Commissioners v. Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, 88 Ohio St. 3d 166, 724 N.E.2d 411 (2000) ("Mandamus is the proper remedy to compel compliance with the Public Records Act, and persons requesting records under R.C. 149.43(C) need not establish the lack of an alternative, adequate legal remedy in order to be entitled to the writ"). The complaint should describe the records sought specifically.

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  • Oklahoma

    A petition should allege that a record is in the hands of a public officer or office, and that the officer or office has failed to make the record available for inspection. 51 O.S. § 24A.17.

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  • Oregon

    The proceedings are either for injunctive relief or declaratory relief in the circuit court, the trial court of general jurisdiction. See ORS 192.411; ORS 192.415. The Oregon Uniform Trial Court Rules, as supplemented by local court rules, dictate the nature and form of the pleadings to be used under the Oregon Rules of Civil Procedure. In order to make certain that the litigation is given the priority permitted by statute, the complaint should be captioned to indicate that it is litigation under the Public Records Law.

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  • Pennsylvania

    The Law states the requester may “file a petition for review or other document as might be required by rule of court;” 65 Pa. C.S.A. §§ 67.1301(a), 1302(a).

    For appeals involving Commonwealth agencies that are filed in Commonwealth Court, the proper format is a petition for review pursuant to Pa. R.A.P. 1501. See Nanayakkara v. Casella, 681 A.2d 857 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1996) (noting, under the old act, that appeal from a Commonwealth agency “should have been brought as a petition for review in our appellate jurisdiction under 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 763(a)(1)”). A petition for review of the OOR final decision must be filed in the Commonwealth Court within 30 days of the mailing date of the final determination of the appeals officer, including a deemed denial date. 65 Pa. C.S.A. § 67.1301(a).

    For appeals filed in the local court of common pleas, counsel should consult the local court rules for guidance. For example, in Philadelphia County, a Right to Know Law appeal from a Philadelphia agency is commenced by filing a short notice of appeal that does little more than identify the agency decision being appealed.

    Some Pennsylvania decisions applying the old act may be instructive. In Knopsnider v. Derry Township Board of Supervisors, 725 A.2d 245, 247 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1999), the Commonwealth Court noted that “[w]e have been unable to ascertain what is specifically required to be pled in a statutory appeal, if anything.” The court concluded that “fact pleading is not required; but at the very most, all that an appellant must plead is that an appeal is being taken and the reasons for the appeal in order to put the governmental entity on notice of why an appeal is being taken.” Id.

    Because the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure are inapplicable, the agency cannot challenge the appeal by filing what are known in Pennsylvania as preliminary objections (i.e., motion to dismiss). Weiss v. Williamsport Area Sch. Dist., 872 A.2d 269 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2005) (but affirming grant of preliminary objections “in the interest of judicial economy”); Knopsnider, 725 A.2d at 245. Nor is discovery pursuant to the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure permitted in Right to Know Law appeals. See Morning Call, Inc. v. Lower Saucon Twp., 627 A.2d 297 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1993); Shultz v. Bd. of Supervisors of Jackson Twp., 505 A.2d 1127 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1986).

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  • Rhode Island

    The pleading is in the form of a civil complaint against the agency alleging that the agency denied access, the records sought are public records, and plaintiff followed all proper procedures in making the request, with a prayer for injunctive or declaratory relief.  See R.I. Gen. Laws § 38-2-8(b).

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  • South Carolina

    Suit is subject to the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure and requires the filing of a summons and a complaint with allegations of fact and a request for relief.

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  • South Dakota

    A simple pleading alleging failure to comply with open records law might suffice. Certainly the usual remedies such as mandamus, prohibition, injunction or declaratory judgment action would seem appropriate, too. However, mandamus and prohibition do not employ a summons, making the “summons” directive problematic. SDCL §1-27-37.

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  • Tennessee

    The Act denominates a pleading to obtain access to records as a petition. The petitioner should allege Tennessee citizenship. T.C.A. § 10-7-505(a). After the individual has filed a petition with the proper court, that court shall "issue an order requiring the defendant or respondent party or parties to immediately appear to show cause . . . why the petition should not be granted." T.C.A. § 10-7-505(b). In the interest of expeditious hearings, a formal written response to the petition is not required, and the generally applicable periods of filing such responses do not apply. T.C.A. § 10-7-505(b). The party in charge of keeping the records bears the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the records sought are exempted from the Act or that there is some other justification for non-disclosure. T.C.A. § 10-7-505(c).

    Individuals serving as records custodian may be named as defendants in the lawsuit. Kersey v. Jones, 2007 Tenn. App. LEXIS 402 (Tenn. Ct. App. July 23, 2007).

    The petition must allege that the custodian refused the requestor’s request to see or have copies of the records. Kersey v. Bratcher, 253 S.W.3d 625 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2007).

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  • Texas

    Pleadings for an open records mandamus or other action are no different than other civil pleadings and must comport with requirements of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. Proceedings brought under the Act are brought, heard, and determined in the same manner as civil actions generally. Cornyn v. City of Garland, 994 S.W.2d 258, 264 (Tex. App.—Austin 1999, no pet.).

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  • Utah

    The petition is a complaint, the format and the contents of which are governed by the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure. See Utah Code § 63G-2-404(2).

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  • Vermont

    There is no prescribed format for pleadings — a simple complaint will do — in the appeal to superior court from the agency head.

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  • Virginia

    No special pleading format is required that would not be used in a petition for mandamus or for injunctive relief. The petition must be supported by an affidavit showing good cause.  Va. Code Ann. § 2.2-3713.A. See Bragg v. Bd. of Supervisors of Rappahannock County, 295 Va. 416, 813 S.E.2d 331 (2018)(discussing adequacy of affidavit submitted in support of petition).

    A fillable form petition for injunctive or mandamus relief under the Act in a General District Court [Form DC-495] is available on the Supreme Court of Virginia’s website. See

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  • Washington

    Not specified. The usual rules for civil litigation apply.

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  • West Virginia

    The complaint need only contain a “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, and a demand for judgment for the relief the FOIA plaintiff seeks. Relief in the alternative or of several types may be demanded. Every such pleading shall be accompanied by a completed civil case information statement in the form prescribed by the Supreme Court of Appeals. W. Va. R. Civ. P. 8.

    If the complaint seeks injunctive relief, it must be verified. The complaint must describe the contents of the FOIA request and state when and to whom the request was made. The reasons (if any) given for the denial of the FOIA request must be set forth. It is advisable to invoke the FOIA in the complaint, as well as the state constitution and common law, if applicable, as the legal basis for the claim. If either the request or the denial is in writing, a copy should be attached to the complaint as an exhibit. Moreover, it may be advisable to attach other documents including letters and email communications that reveal a course of conduct by a public body to support the complaint allegation that it has violated the FOIA. It is important to clearly identify the information to which access was denied.

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  • Wisconsin

    The requester may proceed by a petition for alternative writ of mandamus or by summons and complaint, often accompanied by a motion to shorten time for answer since the records custodian has already considered and denied access to the requested records and may not add to the justifications set forth in the denial letter. See Wis. Stat. § 801.02(5); Newspapers, Inc. v. Breier, 89 Wis. 2d 417, 427, 279 N.W.2d 179, 184 (1979).

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  • Wyoming

    The court has directed that the format should follow the Wyoming Rules of Civil Procedure. Wyo. Stat. § 16-4-203(g) (1977, Rev. 1991); See, e.g., Wyo. R. Civ. P. Section III ("Pleadings and Motions").

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