California Public Records Act Complaint

Background

This template is for journalists seeking to compel a state agency to turn over records requested under CPRA. The template provides a general outline for complaints filed in district court with areas for editing in brackets. CPRA does not require requests to be in writing, but that format may be preferable because filing a complaint with the court is the only remedy provided by the statute.1 Although the CPRA contains no limitation on that remedy, California law imposes a three year statute of limitations on any cause of action created by statute.2

Additionally, some state agencies required to write guidelines for CPRA may have administrative appeals.3 Consult the guidelines for the agency at issue to determine if they created an appeal option. Several courts have local rules requiring exhaustion of administrative remedies before pursuing judicial remedies.

The CPRA requires a response within ten days, or with written notice of extension from the agency, within twenty-four days.4 If the agency delays its response beyond the deadline rather than denying the request, send a second letter advising the agency of its violation of the CPRA timing and a date for a lawsuit if it fails to respond. This letter would assist in proving denial based on delay, as the CPRA does not presume that delay is denial.

The California Sunshine Amendment enhances the effectiveness of the CPRA.5 Specifically, the constitutional right of access to information prevents agencies from asserting no public purpose in access to information and weighs heavily in favor of the public’s interest in disclosure when an agency asserts the public’s interest in non-disclosure. The amendment also requires that courts construe rules broadly when favoring access and narrowly when restricting access.

Parties must file complaints in the county where the agency maintains all or part of the requested records.6 The burden is on the agency to prove exemption.7

1 Cal. Gov’t Code § 6259.
2 Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 338.
3 Cal. Gov’t Code § 6253.4.
4 Id. § 6253(c).
5 Cal. Const. Art. I, § 3(b).
6 Cal. Gov’t Code § 6259(a).
7 Id. § 6255(a)

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