The Georgia Open Records Act (ORA) gives individuals and entities the right to obtain records from their state and local governments. The government officials receiving requests for records generally must provide the requested records within three days. Failure to respond accordingly would be a violation of the Act, which provides a civil penalty for such violation.
In a decision on two related cases brought by the same individual for alleged open records violations, the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that a private citizen has legal standing to bring an action for damages against any government official who commits an ORA violation. The court found that the ORA affords ordinary citizens, not just the state Attorney General, the right to sue individual government officials following a violation.
The Court of Appeals noted, however, that preliminary factual questions would need to be resolved before any civil claim for an ORA violation against that official could be successful and penalties awarded. One such question is whether the government official who received an open records request was the appropriate legal “custodian” of the records being sought.
If an ORA violation occurs, the appellate court made clear that a trial court has considerable discretion regarding whether to award any damages and that the court need not detail its reasoning as to why civil penalties would not be warranted for a particular ORA violation.
The attorneys at Chilivis Grubman represent clients of all types and sizes in connection with local government and regulatory affairs. If you need assistance with such a matter, please contact us today.