Bill Was Inspired By Position Taken By Government In Newark Unified School District v. Snyde/Brazil.
The California Public Records Act (CPFA) has a fees/costs shifting provision in Government Code section 6259(d) which provides that the court shall award court costs and reasonable fees to the “plaintiff” should the plaintiff prevail in CPRA litigation and shall award court costs and reasonable fees to the public agency if the court find that the “plaintiff’s” case is clearly frivolous.
In Newark Unified School District v. Snyder, Brazil et al., an Alameda Superior Court decision involving a small city in the Bay Area which gave rise to an appellate decision published at 245 Cal.App.4th 887, citizen Elizabeth Brazil made a CPRA request for public record and the school district disclosed documents to her. After the disclosure, it stated that it had inadvertently produced some exempt documents and demanded their return. When Ms. Brazil refused, the school district sued to have the documents returned and to prevent her from disclosing any information in those records. The trial court decided district waived the privilege, a result reversed on appeal in the published decision. District then sought to recover $500,000 in fees from Ms. Brazil. In seeking fees, district argued it was a “plaintiff” for purposes of section 6259(d), but the trial judge found that “plaintiff” meant a citizens requester other than a public agency. The $500,000 fee request was not granted.
Senate Bill 1244 was introduced to clarify that “plaintiff” for costs/fee-shifting purposes in a CPRA action is a non-public agency “requester” to avoid a chilling effect with regard to public citizens requesting records. Such a requester only gets tagged with costs and/or fees if the requester files a “clearly frivolous” lawsuit.
Legislative comments to the bill make clear that fees and costs in reverse-CPRA actions are not impacted by the bill.
As reported by an OpEd article in The Orange County Register on May 13, 2018, last week this feature of the bill passed the Senate’s Judiciary Committee by a 7-0 vote.