Court of Appeals rules public records requests may be sent via email

From the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government website:

The Court of Appeals has affirmed a Sumner County trial court’s ruling that the denial of a public records request because it was sent by email violated the Tennessee Public Records Act.

In March 2014, the Sumner County Board of Education denied Ken Jakes’ request to see the board’s public records policy, saying he had to make the request in person, or send it via U.S. Postal Service. Jakes sued, the Sumner County trial court found in his favor, and the school board voted to appeal the ruling.

The school board’s attorney, Jim Fuqua, testified that he was relying on advice from the Office of Open Records Counsel, a state agency housed in the Comptroller’s Office, in denying the emailed request. The office was created to answer questions about the public records law for citizens and government entities.

But trial court judge Dee David Gay, and now the Court of Appeals, did not buy the arguments that the form of the request invalidated it.

In the opinion written by Judge John W. McClarty and joined by Frank G. Clement and W. Neal McBrayer, the court said:

The TPRA (Tennessee Public Records Act) provides that it “shall be broadly construed so as to give the fullest possible access to public records.”  Tenn. Code Ann. 10-7-505(d). As such, “we interpret the terms of [the TPRA] liberally to enforce the public interest in open access to the records of state, county, and municipal governmental entities.” Memphis Publ’g Co. v. Cherokee Children & Family Servs., Inc., 87 S.W.3d 67, 74 (Tenn. 2002). While each governmental entity was tasked with crafting its own public records policy, the General Assembly specifically prohibited entities from imposing “requirements on those requesting records that are more burdensome than state law.” Tenn. Code Ann. 10-7-503(g).

Note: The full TCOG report is HERE; the Court of Appeals opinion is HERE.

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