On May 28, the California Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision and held that under the California Public Records Act (“CPRA”), a requestor of an electronic record (e.g., video recording) is not required to pay a public agency for the costs of redacting or removing protected information from the record before it is disclosed. The Supreme Court decision reversed the 2018 Third District Court of Appeal opinion. CSDA has been actively tracking this case since 2018, and in 2019 filed an amicus brief along with the League of California Cities and California State Association of Counties in support of the City of Hayward.
In National Lawyers Guild v. City of Hayward, the City charged the National Lawyers Guild (“NLG”) $3,000 for approximately 40 hours spent redacting videos relevant to a 2014 demonstration that took place in Berkeley after a grand jury decided not to indict the police officers involved in the deaths of two unarmed African-American men, Eric Garner and Michael Brown. The City of Hayward provided mutual aid during the demonstrations and several of the Hayward police officers policing the demonstrations were equipped with body-worn cameras. The information redacted from the videos was protected medical and tactical information.
NLG submitted a CPRA request for records related to the protest and was assessed the $3,000 fee for video editing, after which they sued. The City argued the fee was permitted under Government Code section 6253.9 of the CPRA, which allows local agencies to charge for “data compilation, extraction, or programming.” The trial court ruled in favor of NLG, but the Third District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the City of Hayward.
The California Supreme Court’s decision reversing the Court of Appeal decision concludes that “the term ‘data extraction’ does not include the process of redacting exempt information from otherwise disclosable electronic records.” The Supreme Court focused on the legislative intent of the word “extraction” in section 6253.9, agreeing with NLG that local agencies may only charge the costs of duplication of records and not other additional costs such as document retrieval and inspection of records.
The decision will have the most impact on agencies with body-worn cameras, but the Court noted that section 6253.9(b)(2) also covers “every type of electronic record, from garden-variety emails to large government databases.” Some local governments will likely receive more CPRA requests for video footage and may no longer charge the requestor for the costs of redacting confidential information before releasing the video record.
If you have questions about this decision, contact CSDA Deputy General Counsel Mustafa Hessabi at firstname.lastname@example.org.