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B. How long to wait

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  • Arizona

    Since the Arizona Public Records Law mandates that “[p]ublic records and other matters in the custody of any officer shall be open to inspection by any person at all times during office hours,” the law creates a presumption in favor of immediate access to the documents.  A.R.S. § 39-121A.R.S. § 39-121.01(E) also provides that “[a]ccess to a public record is deemed denied if a custodian fails to promptly respond to a request for production of a public record.”

    “Although Arizona law requires that the documents be promptly furnished, it does not specify a specific number of days from the request by which time a public body must furnish the documents.”  Phoenix New Times, 217 Ariz. at 538, 177 P.3d at 280.  Courts, therefore, have relied on a dictionary definition of “promptly” to require that public records be produced “at once or without delay.”  West Valley View, 216 Ariz. at 230, 165 P.3d at 208.  But they recognize that “whether a government agency’s response to a wide variety of document requests was sufficiently prompt will ultimately be dependent upon the facts and circumstances of each request.”  Phoenix New Times, 217 Ariz. at 538, 177 P.3d at 280 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); but see id. at 541, 177 P.3d at 283 (noting that “evidence of inattentiveness on the part of the public body does not establish the promptness of a response”).  Some requests will require more time for the custodian to locate the records or to review and determine whether certain information should be deleted from them.  In a recent case, the Court of Appeals held that the State taking 135 days to respond to a public records request was not prompt where the State failed to provide “a legally sufficient reason for the delay.”  Lunney v. Arizona, No. 1 CA-CV 16-0457, slip op. at 14 (Ct. App. Dec. 7, 2017).

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  • Arkansas

    (This section is blank. See the subpoints below.)

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  • Colorado

    Denial of inspection

    A public official has no authority to deny any person access to public records unless there is a specific statute permitting withholding of the information requested. Denver Post Corp. v. Univ. of Colo., 739 P.2d 874 (Colo. App. 1987). Waiver is not a ground for denial of access to public records. Carpenter v. Civil Service Comm'n, 813 P.2d 773 (Colo. App. 1990).

    If the custodian denies access to a requested record, the applicant may request a written statement of the grounds for denial, with citation to the law or regulation under which access is denied. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-72-204(4); see Denver Publ'g Co. v. Dreyfus, 184 Colo. 288, 520 P.2d 104 (1974).

    Inspection may be denied under a specific provision of the Open Records Act, under a specific statute requiring records to be confidential, or when the custodian has applied for and been granted a court order permitting him to restrict disclosure on the grounds that disclosure would do substantial injury to the public interest. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-72-204(6). If the denial is based on "deliberative process" privilege, custodian must provide Vaughn index and a sworn affidavit specifically describing each document withheld, explaining why each such document is privileged, and why disclosure would cause substantial injury to the public interest. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-72-204(3)(a)(XIII).

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  • Delaware

    (This section is blank. See the subpoints below.)

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  • Georgia

    The Act is designed to make the production of records expeditious.  Schick v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. Sys. of Georgia, 334 Ga. App. (2015).  Agencies that use e-mail in the normal course of business are required to accept public records requests via e-mail, O.C.G.A. § 50-18-71(b)(1)(B) & (2), so an e-mail request to the records’ custodian or, if the agency has designated one, to an agency open records officer, will typically be sufficient to immediately trigger the agency’s time to respond.

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  • Hawaii

    Neither the UIPA nor the OIP Rules set a specific time for agency response to an informal request. Instead, the OIP Rules specify that the agency must provide access to any disclosable government record in a "reasonably timely manner." Haw. Code R. § 2-71-11(b)(1).

    In the case of formal requests, the agency has ten business days to disclose government records that will be disclosed in its entirety. Id. § 2-71-13(a). For those records that will be segregated before being disclosed, the agency has ten business days to provide notice to the requester. Id. § 2-71-13(b). The notice must include:

    The location where the record will be made available to the requester;

    Information about fees, if applicable;

    Instructions, if any, regarding additional arrangements that the requester must make with the agency to inspect or copy the records;

    When the agency will make the records available to the requester; and

    A description of any extenuating circumstances and, if that is the case, the agency's intent to disclose the records incrementally.

    Id. § 2-71-14(a). Within five business days of providing notice and after receiving prepayment of fees, if required, the agency must disclose the public part of the requested government record. Id. § 2-71-13(b)(2). In extenuating circumstances, the agency may first provide a written acknowledgement within ten business days. Id. § 2-71-13(c). That acknowledgment must be followed by a written notice sent within twenty business days of the date when the agency received the request. Id. Within five business days after providing notice or after receiving prepayment, if required, the agency must disclose the public parts of the requested record. Id. § 2-71-11(c)(2).

    Extenuating circumstances justifying additional time for agency disclosure exist when an agency seeks consultation concerning possible exemption from disclosure, the request requires extensive agency efforts to search, review or segregate, the agency requires additional time to avoid unreasonable interference with its statutory duties, or a natural disaster or other situation prevents the agency from sending notice. Id. § 2-71-15(a). Under extenuating circumstances and when the requested records are voluminous, an agency may make the records available in increments. Id. § 2-71-15(b).

    If an agency fails to respond to an informal request, the requester may make a formal request for access to government records. Id. § 2-71-11(c).

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  • Iowa

    "A reasonable delay for this purpose [i.e. to determine whether a confidential record is available for inspection and copying] should not exceed twenty calendar days and ordinarily should not exceed ten business days." Iowa Code § 22.8(4)(d). This deadline is not absolute. Horsfield Materials, Inc. v. City of Dyersville, 834 N.W.2d 444, 461 (Iowa 2013). Rather, a government entity has twenty days to determine “whether a confidential record should be available for copying to the person requesting the right to do so.” Id. (quoting Iowa Code § 22.8(4)(d)). Once the determination has been made, access shall be granted as soon as feasible. Id. (quoting Iowa Uniform Rules on Agency Procedure, Fair Information Practices, Agency No.—X.3 (17A, 22)), available at https://www.legis.iowa.gov/DOCS/Rules/Current/UniformRules.pdf.

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  • Montana

    There are no statutory, regulatory or court set time limits for agency response, and the open records act requires that copies be made available in a timely manner. Mont. Code. Ann. § 2-6-1006(2). There is no case law or statutory law that concludes that delay is recognized as a denial for purposes of appeal, and usually the custodian gives an immediate response with respect to whether the documents will be produced.

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  • Nebraska

    Neb. Rev. Stat. §84-712(4) specifies that the custodian must respond to a written record request "as soon as practicable and without delay, but not more than four business days after actual receipt of the request." Although the custodian may have as many as four days following the receipt of the records request, a response may come more quickly, particularly if the request is routine or not exceptionally difficult or extensive.

    There is an exception to Neb. Rev. Stat. §84-712(4) for requests that cannot with reasonable good faith efforts be fulfilled within the four-day deadline because the request is exceptionally difficult to fulfill or the request is too extensive. In this case, the custodian must, within the four-day time frame, provide a written explanation of why the custodian cannot comply with the deadline and must identify (1) the earliest practicable date for furnishing the copies, (2) an estimate of the expected cost, and (3) an opportunity for the requester to modify or prioritize the request.

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  • New Hampshire

    Remedies for Delay. The Statute provides remedies to "any person aggrieved by a violation of this chapter." RSA 91-A:7. The court is authorized to award attorneys’ fees if the public body "knew or should have known that the conduct engaged in was a violation of this chapter." RSA 91-A:8, I.

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  • North Dakota

    Once a request is made, a public entity is required to respond within a reasonable time. The attorney general has stated that access to an open record usually must be granted within a fairly short period of time after a request, because public officials and employees generally should know what records under their control must be disclosed. Similarly, when there is doubt whether a record must be disclosed, a public official or employee may take a reasonable amount of time to determine whether an exemption applies. The attorney general has said the amount of time within which the public entity must respond to a request is usually measured in hours or a few days rather than several days or weeks. See N.D. Op. Att’y Gen. 98-O-22 (1998).

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  • Oklahoma

    The Act states that a public body must provide prompt, reasonable access to its records.  51 O.S. § 24A.5.5.  The act does not address specific time limits. It is therefore advisable that a time for the response be included with the written request.

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  • South Carolina

    Each public body must within 10 days (excluding Saturdays, Sundays and legal public holidays) of the receipt of a written request for records less than 24-months-old notify the person making the request of the agency's determination regarding the records and the reasons for the agency's position. If the record requested is more than 24-months-old at the time of the request, the public body has 20 days to provide a written response regarding the availability of the information, including any reliance on any statutory exemptions. If a request is granted within the above timelines, the record must be furnished or made available for inspection or copying within 30 days (35 days for records older than 24 months) from when final determination or written response was provided. If written notification is not mailed or delivered personally to the requester within the time periods above after the request is made, the request must be considered approved and the responsive records must be provided to the requester within the 30 or 35-day time limit. If fees are required by the public body to make the requested information available, the time limit for performing that task does begin until the initial deposit (not to exceed 25 percent) is paid. The records do not have to be provided until the full amount of fees are paid. S.C. Code Ann. § 30-4-30(c). Until the decision by the Supreme Court of South Carolina in Litchfield Plantation Co. v. Georgetown County Water & Sewer Dist., 443 S.E.2d 574 (S.C. 1994) it could be argued that the public body's failure to respond within the time set by statute precluded the assertion of an exemption. The court held that a failure to respond within the statutory period meant only that the request for access to the nonexempt material had been approved. The various response, determination, and production deadlines mentioned above are subject to extension by written mutual agreement of the public body and the requesting party at issue, “and this agreement shall not be unreasonably withheld.” S.C. Code Ann. § 30-4-30(c).

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  • South Dakota

    There is no time limit for the response to an informal request. However, there is no reason to wait longer than ten days.

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  • Texas

    Where a request for public information has been made, the officer for public information “shall promptly produce [such] information for inspection, duplication, or both on application.” Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.221(a); Moore v. Collins, 897 S.W.2d 496, 499 (Tex. App. –– Houston [1st Dist.] 1995, no writ) (the Act requires officers “to produce public [information] upon request”). Section 552.228 instructs governmental bodies to provide a “suitable copy of public information within a reasonable time” after the request. What is “reasonable” depends on the facts surrounding each request. Tex. Att’y Gen. ORD-467 (1987). If the information is unavailable at the time of the request to examine because it is in active use or in storage, the officer for public information should certify this fact in writing and set a reasonable date and hour when the information will be made available. See Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.221(c). The 1995 legislature amended Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.222 to allow a governmental body to ask the requestor to clarify the request if it is unclear and to discuss the scope of the request if a large amount of information is requested. See City of Dallas v. Abbott, 304 S.W.3d 380, 384 (Tex. 2010) (“a governmental entity, acting in good faith, requests clarification or narrowing of an unclear or overbroad request for public information, the ten-day period to request an attorney general opinion is measured from the date the request is clarified or narrowed”). However, the governmental body may not inquire into the purpose for which information will be used. Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.222(b).

    The 1995 legislature also amended Section 552.221 to specify that an officer for public information complies with the Act by providing the public information for inspection or duplication in the offices of the governmental body or by sending copies of the public information by first class mail. Section 552.225(b) gives the person requesting the information 10 days to examine it after it has been made available. The requestor may extend the examination period by an additional 10 days if a written request for such extension is filed with the officer of public information before the initial period expires. A second 10-day extension may also be obtained in this manner. Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.225(b).

    If a governmental body receives a written request that it believes falls within one of the exceptions listed in the Act, it may still choose to release the information, unless the information is deemed confidential by law. If the governmental body believes the material falls within an exception and does not want to release the information, the governmental body must, no later than 10 business days after receiving the written request, request a decision from the Attorney General as to whether the information falls within the stated exception. Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.301(b). This 10-day limit, however, is tolled between the time that the governmental body requests in good faith a clarification or narrowing of the request and the time that the governmental body receives a clarification or narrowing response. Tex. Att’y Gen. Nos. ORD-663 (1999), ORD-333 (1982). A governmental body that requests an Attorney General decision must provide to the requestor within a reasonable time, but not later than the tenth business day after the date of receiving the request, a written statement that the governmental body wishes to withhold the requested information and has asked for a decision from the attorney general, as well as provide the requestor with a copy of the governmental body’s written communication to the Attorney General (or, if the governmental body’s written communication to the attorney general discloses the requested information, a redacted copy of that written communication). Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.301(d); see also City of Dallas, 304 S.W.3d at 384-85 (“[P]ublic entities requesting an attorney general opinion must specify the exceptions that apply within the same ten-day period in which an opinion must be requested.”).

    If the governmental body fails to make a timely request for an Attorney General’s opinion, “the information requested in writing is presumed to be subject to required public disclosure and must be released unless there is a compelling reason to withhold the information.” Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.302. When a private third party’s interest is at stake, this acts as a compelling reason to overcome the presumption. Tex. Att’y Gen. ORD-319 (1982). The governmental body’s letter to the Attorney General requesting an opinion is public under the Act, Tex. Att’y Gen. ORD-459 (1987), and must be disclosed to the requestor—however, if information that is in dispute is contained in the letter, that information can be redacted.  Id.; Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.301(d)(2). To avoid this issue, the best practice is for governmental bodies to submit information which is the subject of their request or which raises a privacy claim in a separate document accompanying their request letter, rather than in the letters themselves. Tex. Att’y Gen. ORD-459 (1987). A governmental body requesting an Attorney General opinion must, within a reasonable time but no later than the fifteenth business day after receiving the written request for information, submit to the Attorney General (A) written comments stating the reasons why the stated exception(s) apply that support the withholding of information requested, (2) a copy of the written request for information, (C) a signed statement as to the date on which the written request was received, and (D) a copy of the specific information requested, or submit representative samples of the information if a voluminous amount of information was requested. Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.301(e).  Further, the governmental body must label that copy of the specific information, or of the representative samples, to indicate which exceptions apply to which parts of the copy. Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.301(e).

    Section 552.306 provides that the Attorney General “shall promptly render a decision . . . consistent with the standards of due process” and issue a written opinion. The Attorney General determines whether the requested information is within one of the exceptions where disclosure is not required under the Act.  Id.

    Under revisions passed by the 1995 legislature, the Attorney General may determine whether the submission of information is sufficient to render a decision. Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.303(b).  If the governmental body has failed to provide the Attorney General with all of the specific information necessary to render a decision, the Attorney General is required to give written notice of that fact to the governmental body and to the requestor. Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.303(c).  The governmental body then has seven calendar days to submit the necessary additional information; otherwise, the requested information is presumed to be public. Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.303(d), (e). Any member of the public may submit written comments stating reasons why the information should or should not be released. Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.304. If an information request might involve a third party’s privacy or property interests, Section 552.305 provides that “a governmental body may decline to release the information for the purpose of requesting an attorney general decision.” In such a case, the governmental body that requests an Attorney General decision shall make, no later than the tenth business day after receipt of the request, a good faith attempt to notify that person of the request for the Attorney General decision. Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.305(d). Such third parties “whose interests may be involved . . . or any other person, may submit in writing to the attorney general the person’s reasons why the information should be withheld or released.” Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.305(b).

    The Attorney General must render a decision within 45 working days after receiving the request for a decision. Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.306(a). If the Attorney General is unable to render a decision within that period, the Attorney General may extend that period by 10 business days by informing the governmental body and the requestor, during the initial 45-day period, of the reason for the delay. Id. The Attorney General’s opinion must be in writing, copies of which must be provided to the requestor. Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.306(b).

    The Act does not set out any procedure for appealing the Attorney General’s decision. The governmental body requesting the Attorney General opinion is bound by that opinion unless it challenges it in court. Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.324(b). The governmental body has 30 calendar days to file a challenge to the Attorney General’s decision in court. Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.324(b).

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  • Virginia

    Five Day Initial Response: The custodian must provide an initial response within five working days of receipt of the request, informing the requester of one of the following:

    Permissible Responses: That the public body will provide the records or that:

    • All of the requested records are being withheld. A written explanation must be provided explaining why the records are unavailable, making specific reference to the relevant code provision, and identifying with reasonable specificity the volume and subject matter of the withheld records. Va. Code Ann. § 2.2-3704.B.1.
    • The requested records are being provided in part. A written explanation must be provided explaining why some records are being withheld and must identify with reasonable particularity the withheld portions, naming the code provision that authorized withholding. Va. Code Ann. § 2.2-3704.B.2.
    • The requested records could not be found or do not exist. If the recipient knows that another public body is the custodian of the requested record, it shall provide contact information for the public body holding the record. Code Ann. § 2.2-3704.B.3.
    • It is not practically possible to provide the requested records or to determine whether they are available within the five working days prescribed and, therefore, the custodian shall have an additional seven (7) work days to provide one of the three aforementioned responses. Va. Code Ann. § 2.2-3704.B.4.

    Responding with an answer not found in the Act does not constitute a response for the Act’s purposes. Fenter v. Norfolk Airport Authority, 274 Va. 524, 532, 649 S.E.2d 704 (2007) (informing the requester that the request has been send to a federal authority is insufficient).  Failure to respond is a denial of the request and constitutes a violation of the Act.  Va. Code Ann. § 2.2-3704.E.

    Additional Time to Respond: The custodian may obtain an additional seven (7) working days to respond pursuant to § 2.2-3704.B.4 as long as  the custodian provides an initial response within five working days. The custodian also may petition the appropriate court for additional time if there is an extraordinary volume of records requested and a response within the time limit will prevent the public body from meeting its operational responsibilities. Va. Code Ann. § 2.2-3704.C.

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  • Washington

    Promptness. The Public Records Act requires agencies to make a prompt response to requests for public records. RCW 42.56.520. “Promptness” means as soon as practicable, but, in any event, no longer than five days unless the agency can establish that it is impossible to meet the five-day deadline. Id. The agency can meet its five-day obligation simply by acknowledging the request and giving a reasonable estimate for how long it will take to respond.

    Granting Disclosure. An agency’s response to a request for records cannot, in most instances, be based on the requester’s identity or purpose. RCW 42.56.080. If the agency grants a request, it is to make the records available for inspection and copying during the customary office hours of the agency. RCW 42.56.090. The agency is also required to make agency facilities available for copying to the extent it would not disrupt agency operations. RCW 42.56.080. A public agency or official acting in good faith to comply with the Public Records Act may not be held liable for any loss or damage resulting from the release of a public record. RCW 42.56.060.

    Explanation of Nondisclosure. The agency must explain the basis for any record, or portion of a record, that is deleted or withheld. RCW 42.56.070. The agency must identify the specific exemption authorizing withholding of the record, or part of the record, and briefly explain how the exemption applies to the record withheld. RCW 42.56.210(3). Furthermore, the agency must inform the requester of the fact that it has withheld records, and it must identify such records, or portions of records, with particularity. Progressive Animal Welfare Soc’y v. University of Washington, 125 Wn.2d 243, 270-71, 884 P.2d 592 (1994), partial reconsideration denied (1995) (“PAWS”).

    Delay. Courts have recognized that failure to respond in a timely manner is, in essence, a denial. Agencies that are slow in responding to requests should also be reminded that the court has the discretion to award penalties in an amount up to $100 per day for each day that the requester is denied the right to inspect or copy the records. RCW 42.56.550(4). Also, a requester may challenge in court an agency’s estimate of the time it will take to respond to a request. RCW 42.56.550(2).

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  • West Virginia

    (This section is blank. See the subpoints below.)

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  • Wyoming

    The law requires an immediate response if the records are available immediately.  If the records are in active use or in storage, then the custodian must respond within seven business days. If a requester believes the delay is without good cause, he or she can appeal to the district court, where the custodian has the burden of proving he or she has good cause for the delay.

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