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May 1, 2006

Can Members of the Public Sue to Enforce Iowa's Sunshine Laws?

Yes - the law arms the public with remedies.

Iowa's Open Meetings and Public Records laws (Iowa Code ch. 21 and 22) are truly the "People's Laws" - meaning that by statute a broad range of people are granted authority to go to court or to file complaints with the Iowa Public Information Board to seek enforcement of Iowa's "Sunshine Laws."

Members of the public can take steps to enforce Iowa's Sunshine Laws when they have a good faith basis to believe the law has been violated, and if they are one or more of the following:

  1. A citizen of the state of Iowa.
  2. A person who pays taxes of any type to the state of Iowa.
  3. A person individually aggrieved by a violation of Iowa's Sunshine Laws, such as a person wrongfully denied access to a public record or an open meeting.

People who retain legal counsel to sue a governmental body under Iowa's Open Meetings laws, or sue the lawful custodian of a public record under Iowa's Public Records laws, are entitled to an award of costs and attorney fees if they are successful in establishing a violation of the law. (Iowa Code sec. 21.6(3)(b) and 22.10(3)(c)).

Depending on the circumstances of the violation, a court could also issue an injunction to require compliance with the law in the future, void action taken wrongfully in a closed session, assess damages against the violator, or remove a second-time offender from office. (See Iowa Code sec. 21.6 and 22.10).

The Iowa Public Information Board has many of the same powers, including requiring future compliance and remedial action, imposing damages, and voiding action taken wrongfully in closed session.  (See Iowa Code sec. 23.10).

Remember: Sunshine Laws can be enforced upon complaint to the Iowa Public Information Board or in court by all citizens of Iowa, all persons who pay taxes to Iowa, and all other persons who are harmed by government's failure to comply with the law. In every sense of the word, Sunshine Laws are the "People's Laws."

Sunshine advisories are a general resource for government officials and citizens on Iowa's public records and open meetings laws – our "sunshine” laws.  Local officials should obtain legal advice from their counsel, such as the city or county attorney.

The Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB) is an independent board that the Iowa Legislature established specifically to address open meetings and open records-related matters.  The IPIB provides information to the public and governmental entities on "sunshine" issues.

The IPIB, which has jurisdiction and authority to investigate and enforce Iowa's open meetings and open records laws, enables citizens to file a complaint if they believe that someone is violating these laws.

Citizens who have inquiries or complaints about public records or open meetings should contact the Iowa Public Information Board. Iowa Public Information Board.

Wallace Building, Third Floor
502 East 9th Street
Des Moines, IA 50319


Phone: 515-725-1781

Updated December 1, 2014

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