This template is for journalists seeking to compel a state agency to turn over records requested under OORA. The template provides a general outline for complaints filed in one of Oklahoma’s State District Courts, with areas for editing in brackets. Before filing a complaint in district court against a public body or public official, a journalist should first request an inspection of the relevant records.
1. Request documents from the agency.
Any person may inspect, copy, or mechanically reproduce all records1 of public bodies and public officials,2 unless specifically excepted by OORA or by other law.3 Each public body must designate “certain persons” who are authorized to receive and fulfill records requests during regular business hours.4
OORA does not require records requests to be in writing. However, if an oral request is denied, the journalist should make the same request in writing. Any records request should include a specific description of the records sought, state that that request is made in the public interest, and provide a maximum amount the journalist is willing to pay for the records. While OORA does not provide any specific time limits to respond to a records request, OORA requires the public body to provide “prompt, reasonable access to its records.”5 Therefore, a journalist making a records request should consider including a time limit in the request. In the event that a records request is denied, the journalist should submit a written request instructing the public body to state the statutory authority relied upon in denying the request.
A public body may only charge record copying fees to recover the “reasonable, direct costs of record copying, or mechanical reproduction.”6 Such record copying fees may not exceed twenty-five cents ($0.25) per page or a maximum of one dollar ($1.00) per copied page for a certified copy. However, a public body may charge a search fee if the records request is (a) solely for commercial purpose and not in the public interest, or (b) would clearly cause excessive disruption of the essential functions of the public body.7 A public body that establishes fees under OORA must post a fee schedule at its principal office and with the county clerk.8
2. File a complaint with the state district court.
If a person is denied access to requested records, he or she may bring a civil suit against the applicable public body or public official in a state district court for declarative or injunctive relief, or both.9 Such a suit must be brought within two years of the denial.10 The proper venue for a suit brought to procure public records is the county where access to such records was denied or where the applicable defendant resides.11 If a suit must be filed, the court may award costs and attorney’s fees to a party who successfully gains access to public records.12 However, should such public body or public official successfully defend a civil suit and the applicable court finds that such suit was “clearly frivolous,” the public body or public official shall be entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees.13
1 “Record” is defined as “all documents, including, but not limited to, any book, paper, photograph, microfilm, data files created by or used with computer software, computer tape, disk, record, sound recording, film recording, video record or other material regardless of physical form or characteristic, created by, received by, under the authority of, or coming into the custody, control or possession of public officials, public bodies, or their representatives in connection with the transaction of public business, the expenditure of public funds or the administering of public property.” Explicit exclusions from the definition of “Record” are: “computer software, nongovernment personal effects, unless public disclosure is required by other laws or regulations, vehicle movement records of the Oklahoma Transportation Authority obtained in connection with the Authority’s electronic toll collection system, personal financial information, credit reports or other financial data obtained by or submitted to a public body for the purpose of evaluating credit worthiness, obtaining a license, permit, or for the purpose of becoming qualified to contract with a public body, any digital audio/video recordings of the toll collection and safeguarding activities of the Oklahoma Transportation Authority, any personal information provided by a guest at any facility owned or operated by the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department or the Board of Trustees of the Quartz Mountain Arts and Conference Center and Nature Park to obtain any service at the facility or by a purchaser of a product sold by or through the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department or the Quartz Mountain Arts and Conference Center and Nature Park, a Departments of Defense Form 214 (DD Form 214) filed with a county clerk, including any DD Form 214 filed before the effective date of this act, or except as provided for in Section 2-110 of Title 47 of the Oklahoma Statutes, (i) any record in connection with a Motor Vehicle Report issued by the Department of Public Safety, as prescribed in Section 6-117 of Title 47 of the Oklahoma Statutes, (ii) personal information within driver records, as defined by the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, 18 United States Code, Sections 2721 through 2725, which are stored and maintained by the Department of Public Safety, or (iii) audio or video recordings of the Department of Public Safety.” 51 O.S. §24A.3.
2 51 O.S. §24A.5.
3 OORA’s exceptions are set forth at 51 O.S. §§ 24A.5(1), 24A.7 – 24A.16. 24A.19 – 24A.20, 24A.22-A.29.
4 51 O.S §24A.5.
6 51 O.S. § 24.A.5(3).
7 51 O.S §24A.3.
9 51 O.S. §24A.17.B (1).
10 12 O.S. §95.
11 12 O.S. §§ 133, 1653.
12 51 O.S. §24A.17.B (2).
13 51 O.S. § 24A.17.C