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August 1, 2005

Getting Access to Public Records: What is a Good Faith, Reasonable Delay?

Governmental bodies that administer the Public Records Law often must make significant decisions about legal issues when responding to public records requests. Requesters may be asked to agree to wait for access to public records, especially if the request is very large. Without agreement, how long can government take to make decisions before permitting examination and copying -- or denying the request?

A delay in permitting examination and copying of public records is never justified simply for the convenience of the governmental body, but delay will not violate the law if it is in good faith, reasonable and for one of the reasons for delay set out by statute:

To seek an injunction under Iowa Code section 22.8. Even if the records are not confidential, there may be reasons to obtain an injunction if the evidence shows that "examination would clearly not be in the public interest" and would "substantially and irreparably injure any person or persons." Iowa Code sec. 22.8(1)(a)-(b). Time may be required to go into court and seek an order prohibiting release.

To determine whether the lawful custodian is entitled to, or should, seek an injunction. Before going into court, the lawful custodian may need time to evaluate whether the evidence would support an injunction. This decision very likely would involve consultation with legal counsel.

To determine whether the record is a public record, or is a confidential record. Application of the laws shielding records as confidential can be complex. Some records may contain both open and confidential information. The confidential information may have to be blacked out. Time may be needed to sort out the application of the law and prepare records for release.

To determine whether a confidential record should be made available to the requester. Some records are available to certain people, but kept confidential from others. See, e.g.,Iowa Code 321.271 (accident reports available to identified persons). Time may be needed to determine whether the requester is a person entitled to access to the record under the law.  A reasonable delay for this purpose shall not exceed 20 calendar days and ordinarily should not exceed 10 business days.

Remember: Time is of the essence in responding to public records requests. In order to assure compliance with the statute, any delay should be for a reason authorized by law.  If timely compliance is not possible, government officials should talk with the requester.  Once the legal decision is made, records should be provided as promptly as is reasonably feasible.

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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