Public Agency Not Required to List Documents Exempt from Public Records Request

The California Supreme Court has upheld a public agency’s claim that certain records were exempt from disclosure as records of a law enforcement investigation, as well as its refusal to list the documents exempted.

In Haynie v. Superior Court (2001) 2001 DJDAR 10541, the plaintiff presented a public records request to the County of Los Angeles seeking records concerning an incident where he was detained, handcuffed and questioned, and then released by a Sheriff’s deputy. The County provided a “summary of the event,” but refused to provide the records relying on the exemption in the Public Records Act for records of (1) complaints to, investigations conducted by, or records of intelligence information or security procedures of certain police agencies and (2) investigatory or security files compiled by state or local agencies for correctional, law enforcement or licensing purposes. (Government Code section 6254(f).)

The Court noted that in order to qualify for the exemption for the second category of documents (investigatory or security files compiled by state or local agencies for correctional, law enforcement or licensing purposes), the prospect of enforcement proceedings must be “concrete and definite.” However, the Court confirmed the “concrete and definite” requirement does not apply to requests for the first category of records, such as records of complaints to and investigations by police agencies. These will qualify for exemption if undertaken to determine whether a violation of law occurred (as distinguished from complaints or investigations for other purposes such as crime prevention or public safety).

The Supreme Court also held the County was not required in its initial response to the Public Records Act request to create an inventory of records responsive to or exempt from the request. The Court held this went far beyond the purpose of the Public Records Act to simply make records available for inspection. (Such a list could be required later if the requesting party files a petition to compel the disclosure of records and the agency claims an exemption, but it is not required prior to that.)