CORPORATE TRANSACTIONS & COMPLIANCE BLOG

Let’s Get Physical: Address Requirements for State FOIA Requests

By: Joanna McCall and Courtney McRae, COGENCY GLOBAL INC. on Thu, Nov 01, 2018

Freedom of Information Act - State and Local LimitationsIn all fifty U.S. states and the District of Columbia, legislation empowers members of the public to request public records from state, county, city, and other agencies. These state laws have a variety of names (e.g. Sunshine, Right to Know, Public Information Act) but they essentially provide researchers, journalists and the general public with the same access to information as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) at the federal level.

Non-Resident Restrictions

That said, there are a range of exemptions that allow state and local agencies to restrict or withhold information, leading a submitter to find themselves in the unfortunate position of drafting a clearly-written, well-researched records request and have the state immediately reject it.

Most states will allow anyone to place a request, but a handful of states exempt themselves entirely from honoring requests placed by non-residents. Adding to the confusion, not all states enforce the exemption equally.

Arkansas, Delaware, Tennessee and Virginia specifically grant their own citizens and residents the right to request and inspect public documents. These states frequently deny requests placed by non-residents.

State

Statute

Arkansas

“All public records shall be open to inspection and copying by any citizen of the State of Arkansas during the regular business hours of the custodian of the records.”
Ark. Code Ann. 25-19-105.

Delaware

“Any citizen of Delaware may request public documents
and the purpose of the records request is not required.” 29 Del. C. § 10001 et seq.

Tennessee

“Only citizens of Tennessee have the right to inspect and receive copies of public records” Tenn. Code Ann. 10-7-503 et seq.

Virginia

"All public records shall be open to inspection and copying by any citizens of the Commonwealth." Va. Code Sec. 2.2-3704

 

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

The good news for researchers is that there are workarounds for these residency requirements, even for those states with stricter enforcement of statutes.

If your company is registered with the Secretary of State in these states, it may be possible to provide the relevant agency with a current Certificate of Good Standing to fulfill the residency requirement. In some cases, you can hire an agent to submit the request on your behalf.

State FOIA laws are a powerful tool for researchers, journalists and the general public. Knowledge of each individual state’s requirements and exemptions can help you avoid surprises and can increase the likelihood of the state accepting and fulfilling your request.

 

This article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered, or relied upon, as legal advice.

Topics: Freedom of Information Act