Navigating the Appeals Process
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By Rosemary Cundiff, Government Records Ombudsman
February 10, 2016
Anyone who is not satisfied with the response they received to a records request (GRAMA request) may appeal the denial to the next highest authority, in this order:
First Level of Appeal: The Chief Administrative Officer (CAO)
A requester or other interested party who is not satisfied with a records officer’s response to a GRAMA request and wishes to appeal must begin by appealing to the chief administrative officer (CAO) of the relevant governmental entity (UC 63G-2-401(1)). The records officer’s Notice of Denial should provide contact information for the chief administrative officer, as well as a statement that the requester has the right to appeal within 30 days (UC 63G-2-205(2)).
Appealable issues include:
- Government’s denial of access to records based on restricted classification (UC 63G-2-401(1)).
- Government’s claim that it does not maintain the requested records, which must be supported by evidence that the entity does or should maintain requested records (Utah Administrative Rule 35-2-2(2).
- Government’s failure to respond, which is considered an access denial (UC 63G-2-204(8)).
- Government’s claim of extraordinary circumstances requiring more time to respond or provide records (UC 63G-2-401(1)(b)).
- Government’s denial of a request for a fee waiver (UC 63G-2-203(6)(a)).
The appeal to the chief administrative officer must include:
- Name, address, and daytime telephone number of the requester (UC 63G-2-401(2)(a))
- An explanation of the requested remedy (UC 63G-2-401(2)(b))
The chief administrative officer of every governmental entity is a person in a managerial position who has responsibility for the entity’s overall records management program, or someone else whom he/she has delegated to handle appeals (UC 63A-12-103 and 63G-2-401(9)). The chief administrative officer has the authority to weigh various interests and order the disclosure of records that are properly restricted if, after review, he/she believes interests favoring disclosure prevail (UC 63G-2-401(6)).
The chief administrative officer must make a decision within 5 business days (12 if a confidentiality agreement is involved) (UC 63G-2-401(5)(a)). If the chief administrative officer upholds the original denial or fails to make a decision within the allowed time, the requester is entitled to appeal to the next level (UC 63G-2-402).
Additional Step for Some Local Appeals: Local Appeals Board
If the chief administrative officer does not provide the requested remedy, a requester or interested party may further appeal as follows:
- If the governmental entity has created a local appeals board, then the requester must next appeal to that board (UC 63G-2-701(5)(c)(iii)).
- If the governmental entity is not a political subdivision with a separate appeals board, then the requester may choose to appeal either to the State Records Committee or to district court (UC 63G-2-701(5)(c)(iv) and 63G-2-402(1)(a)).
Details of the appeals process for local boards are defined locally; however, the makeup of local boards is defined in GRAMA. Each board must be composed of three members: an employee of the governmental entity, and two members of the public, at least one of whom shall have professional experience in managing or requesting records (UC 63G-2-701(5)(c)(ii)). If a local appeals board is in place the chief administrative officer’s response should provide details of how to appeal (UC 63G-2-401(7)). Ordinances about local appeals boards for specific governmental entities may be found on the Archives website (see links under "Local Governance").
If not satisfied with the decision of a local appeals board, either the requester, an interested party, or the governmental entity may further appeal the local board’s decision to either the State Records Committee or to district court (UC 63G-2-701(6)(a)).
Second Level of Appeal: State Records Committee (SRC)
A State Records Committee hearing in session
The State Records Committee is an administrative appeals board within the Department of Administrative Services that is supported by the Division of Archives. The committee generally meets on the second Thursday of each month in an Open and Public Meeting and part of the agenda is to hear appeals that are brought forward.
Appeals to the State Records Committee require a petitioner to provide the executive secretary of the State Records Committee with the following (UC 63G-2-403(2)):
- Name, mailing address, and daytime telephone number of the person making the appeal
- Copies of all previous decisions
- Copies of the original request and appeal to the chief administrative officer or a description of records requested
- Explanation of the remedy requested and, preferably, an argument supporting the requester’s position
Appeals should be addressed to Nova Dubovik, State Records Committee executive secretary:
- Nova Dubovik
346 South Rio Grande Street,
Salt Lake City, Utah 84101
Appeals must be made within 30 days of the notice of denial (UC 63G-2-403(1)). On the same day the notice of appeal is filed, the appellant should provide a copy of the appeal to the governmental entity (UC 63G-2-403(3)(a)(i)). But if the governmental entity is appealing the decision of a local board, the copy of the appeal should be provided to the requester or interested party who made the earlier appeal (UC 63G-2-403(3)(a)(ii)).
After receiving all of the necessary documents, the executive secretary will schedule a hearing 16 to 64 calendar days from the date of the appeal and will send a scheduling letter specifying the date of the hearing (UC 63G-2-403(4)). At least five days prior to the hearing the governmental entity involved in the hearing must provide to both the executive secretary and the petitioner a written statement of the facts, reasons, and legal authority that support the government’s position (UC 63G-2-403(5)). These statements are posted on the State Archives website.
Since hearings take an undetermined amount of time, participants generally attend the entire meeting and await their turn on the schedule. Hearings proceed with participants provided 20 minutes each to develop an argument, and then five minutes of closing statements (Utah Administrative Rule 35-1-2). The hearing may also include witness testimony or statements by interested parties (UC 63G-2-403(8)). The governmental entity is required to bring any disputed records so that committee members may review them in camera when they determine that is needed to make a decision (UC 63G-2-403(9)).
After open discussion at the hearing, the State Records Committee makes decisions about the issues brought before it. The decisions of the Committee are compiled into Decisions and Orders that are issued within seven business days after the hearing (UC 63G-2-403(11-12)).
Final Level of Appeal: District Court
Either party may appeal the Decision and Order issued by the State Records Committee in district court according to the Rules of Civil Procedure. An appeal must be made within 30 days of the date on the Decision and Order (UC 63G-2-404(1)(a). The State Records Committee is a necessary party in a civil suit when its decision is being challenged. Resources available to the public for filing judicial reviews: Utah Courts Self Help and Tuesday Night Bar.
Resolution Through Mediation
Either the governmental entity or a person making a records request or appeal may request mediation at any point in this process (UC 63A-12-111(2)(c)). Mediation does not impact the appeals process, except that through mediation an appellant may become satisfied and withdraw the appeal. Mediation is an opportunity for parties to meet for a candid discussion about issues related to the appeal and to gainunderstanding of others’ positions and explore possible resolutions. No correspondence with the government records ombudsman or information obtained in mediation can be brought forward at any hearings, either before the State Records Committee or the District Court.
Questions about GRAMA, records requests or appeals, or requests for mediation should be addressed to Rosemary Cundiff, government records ombudsman:
- Rosemary Cundiff
346 South Rio Grande Street,
Salt Lake City, Utah 84101
Page Last Updated October 31, 2017 .