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Arkansas Supreme Court Affirms FOIA’s Emphasis on Disclosure of Public Records

In June 2012, the Arkansas Supreme Court held that the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), codified at Ark. Code Ann. §§25-19-101 to -110, permits a public agency to refuse to comply with a request for disclosure of public records on the ground that the request lacks sufficient specificity, but not on the ground that it is “too broad or burdensome.”

After being stopped and cited for speeding by a Jacksonville police officer, Partne Daugherty submitted multiple requests for records to the Jacksonville Police Department (JPD), pursuant to FOIA.

Asserting that Daugherty’s requests were “too broad and burdensome,” the city attorney refused to turn over the requested records unless Daugherty paid the city nearly $2,500 – the estimated cost of copying the records based on the hourly wages paid the JPD personnel responsible for the copying.

Later, when Daugherty limited the scope of her records request, the city attorney indicated that the records had been purged from the Police Department’s system, pursuant to the Department’s standard policy of retaining records for only 45 days.

Daugherty filed a complaint in the Pulaski County Circuit Court. After a hearing, the circuit court dismissed the complaint, finding no violation of FOIA by JPD.

On appeal, the Supreme Court, noting that the purpose of FOIA is to ensure that public business is performed in an open and public manner, held that refusing to comply with a records request on the ground that it is deemed to be “too broad and burdensome” directly conflicts with the Court’s liberal interpretation of the Act.

The Court further held that since Daugherty had requested only copies of records, but not a summary compilation of those records, she could not be charged fees that exceeded the direct cost of reproduction.

As to the purging of the records, the Court noted, largely because FOIA was not a records-retention statute, that it could not say that the circuit court had erred in finding that the Department had not violated FOIA’s provisions in acting pursuant to its 45-day policy. See: Daugherty v. Jacksonville Police Department, 2012 Ark. 264, ___ S.W.3d __ (Ark. 2012); 2012 WL 2150347.

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Related legal case

Daugherty v. Jacksonville Police Department