|Civil Division- Kent County
||April 24, 2002
Mr. James Wade
3 Karen Circle
Newark, DE 19713
Re: Freedom of Information Act Complaint Against Christina School District
Dear Mr. Wade:
Our Office received your Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") complaint on March 5, 2002 alleging that the Christina School District ("the School District") violated FOIA by not providing you with reasonable access to public records. Specifically, you allege that the School District did not provide you with accounting and other information you requested, and that the School District's procedures for processing FOIA requests are "designed to impede the public's access to documents."
By letter dated March 8, 2002, 2000, we asked the School District to respond to your complaint. We received the School District's response on March 27, 2002. The School District contends that your complaint is time-barred. Alternatively, the School District contends that it provided you with access to records containing the information you requested, and that its FOIA procedures are consistent with the law.
We do not agree with the School District that your complaint is time-barred. The 60-day statute of limitations in Section 10005 does not apply to the Attorney General because "the statute of limitations does not run against the sovereign. . . .
[Unless the statute expressly provides to the contrary, statutes of limitations do not apply to a state suing in its sovereign capacity." Mayor & Council of Wilmington v. Dukes, Del. Supr., 157 A.2d 789, 794 (1960). FOIA does not expressly limit investigation or enforcement actions by the Attorney General, but only limits the times within which citizens may sue in court for a violation of FOIA.
As a general rule, for fairness and practical reasons, we do not investigate events that occurred more than six months before we received the complaint. The events Mr. Wade complains of took place in December 2001, well within our six-month rule, so we will consider the merits of his complaint.
We now turn to the merits of your complaint.
A. Copying Costs
In the opinion you cite, Att'y Gen. Op. 95-IB08 (Feb. 6, 1995), we determined that a public body under FOIA could not charge for copying unless it had a written rule or procedure. In contrast, the School District's Guideline No. 5 provides: "The requesting party shall pay the District $.50 per page." We have determined that copying costs of 50 cents per page are reasonable and "in keeping with fees charged by other public bodies." Att'y Gen. Op. 94-IO13 (Mar. 15, 1994).
The School District admits that it does not have a written rule regarding charges for the cost of retrieving information from computer databases. According to the School District, it will "promptly" amend its rules and regulations "to provide for the cost of retrieving information from computer databases." There is no indication in the record that the School District charged you for computer time and therefore we do not find a violation of FOIA.
In your letter of December 1, 2002 to the School District, you requested an accounting of costs for radio advertising; print advertising; and mailings and brochure printing. In its response dated December 13, 2002, the School District stated that FOIA does not require it "to prepare summaries, conduct research, or otherwise assemble information in order to respond to a FOIA request." The School District offered to provide you with access to the "records reflecting costs for radio advertising, print advertising, or costs for mailings and brochure printing."
The School District is correct that FOIA does not require a public body "to compile the requested data from other public records that may exist." Att'y Gen. Op. 96-IB28 (Aug. 8, 1996). The School District's offer to allow you to inspect and copy documents that reflect advertising and other costs satisfies the reasonable access requirement of the public records law.
C. Legal Fees
According to the School Board, the "legal fees billed and paid to the law firm of Morris, James, Hitchens & Williams LLP are reflected in financial reports regularly provided to the Board . . . and will be made available for inspection and copying." Because the School District has offered to allow you to inspect and copy those financial reports, we do not find a violation of FOIA.
D. Legal Judgments/Contingent Liabilities
According to the School Board, it is not aware of any "monetary legal judgments" against the School Board in 1999, 2000, or 2001. Your letter refers to an administrative hearing before the Department of Education in which the hearing panel decided that the School District had to continue to pay for a student's remedial education. The School District takes the position that the panel's decision is not a "monetary legal judgment." Technically, that may be correct, but in the spirit of the public records laws we believe that your request encompasses any ruling or decision by a quasi-judicial body that calls for an expenditure of money by the School District. We direct the School District to make available to you for inspection and copying any such decisions for the three years requested.
You asked for "a summary of potential monetary liabilities" the School District might incur "in ongoing litigation." The School District asserts that no such document exists. Because, as discussed above, FOIA does not require the School District to compile summaries of information from court records, we find that the School District did not violate FOIA.
According to the School District, the budgets for the years 1999, 2000, and 2001 are available in the "financial reports regularly provided to the Board, and set forth in the financial reports included in the Board packets. Copies of such Board agendas will be made available for inspection and copying." Because the School District has offered to make those public records including financial reports available for inspection and copying, we do not find a violation of FOIA.
F. Indirect Administrative Costs
You asked the School District for the "indirect administrative cost, including personnel, for operating the Christina School District Office at 83 Main Street, for the years 1999, 2000, and 2001." According to the School District, it does not maintain that information in one source. It does have records concerning "salaries and benefits to employees, as well as other records which may relate to your vague, broad request." The School District asked you to refine your request "by identifying more specifically the records you seek to review."
"Broad, sweeping requests lacking specificity" do not have to be honored under FOIA. Att'y Gen. Op. 91-I003 (Feb. 1, 1991). "It is the duty of the requestor to frame the request with sufficient specificity so that it is not excessively broad." Id. Accord Att'y Gen. Op. 95-IB24 (Aug. 7, 1995). We agree with the School District that your request regarding indirect administrative costs is not specific enough under FOIA.
For the foregoing reasons, we determine that the School District must make available for inspection and copying any rulings or decisions or orders by an administrative body issued during the years 1999, 2000, and 2001 which require the School District to expend monies. We also determine that in order to charge for the costs of retrieving computerized data, the School District must amend its written rules and regulations to provide for a reasonable schedule of costs. In all other respects, we determine that the School District did not violate the public records requirements of FOIA.
Very truly yours,
W. Michael Tupman
Deputy Attorney General
Malcolm S. Cobin
cc: The Honorable M. Jane Brady
David H. Williams, Esquire
Mr. Phillip G. Johnson, Opinion Coordinator