Georgia, USA

Georgia Public Records Guide

Georgia Open Records Act (ORA)

Georgia Law § 50-18-70

The Georgia Open Records Act is very specific with its language, helping anyone trying to use it to easily understand the parameters of the law. The state clearly gives themselves a 3 business day window to respond to a request, a remarkably short period compared with most other states. The Act applies to all offices of the legislative and executive branches, and under Uniform Court Rule 21, the Judicial Branch as well. While there is no records ombudsman, the Attorney General’s Office has created a streamlined complaint system to deal with problems requesters may encounter. Unless a request is unusually difficult to search and retrieve an agency may not charge search and retrieval costs and due to Trammell v. Martin (1991) both search and copying must be done in the most economical fashion possible. Otherwise copying runs $0.25 per page in Georgia.

Exemptions in the Georgia Open Records Act are highly specific. One cannot request documents concerning certain national historic places or wildlife refuges, security plans or measures dealing with homeland security, nor can someone request athletic records dealing with children of the age of 12 or younger. Any document dealing with real estate that a state or local agency is attempting to purchase or construct can also be exempted prior to the project or purchases completion or termination. All branches of government can be requested from in Georgia, including the judicial branch if one uses Uniform Court Rule 21.

There is no appeals process in Georgia that deals exclusively with FOIA requests. If a request has been denied, one may lodge a complaint in the informal portal run by the Attorney General’s’ Office. If the Attorney General does not decide to further investigate your complaint, one may file a civil or criminal action in superior court and appeal the denial that way.

The Law

  • 3 day response time
  • Applies to Executive and Legislative branches and judicial proceedings can be obtained as well through the judge presiding over the case in questions approval.
  • Only Georgia citizens may request
  • No appeals process. Appeals are dealt with in the superior courts

Supplemental

Georgia record retention schedule

Georgia court records

The Details

Can you submit a request if you’re not a resident?

One must be a citizen of Georgia, though this requirement is not consistently used to deny requests.

“(b) All public records of an agency as defined in subsection (a) of this Code section, except those which by order of a court of this state or by law are prohibited or specifically exempted from being open to inspection by the general public, shall be open for a personal inspection by any citizen of this state at a reasonable time and place; and those in charge of such records shall not refuse this privilege to any citizen.”

To whom does this apply?

Executive?

Yes.

Legislative?

Yes.

Judicial?

The Judicial branch is not held subject to the act itself, but it is possible to request court documents under the Uniform Court Rule 21 of the Georgia Superior Courts.

Is there a designated records custodian?

No, there is no ombudsman or other general records custodian in the State of Georgia. The Office of the Attorney General has created an informal mediation system whereby requesters can submit complaints and help keep governmental agencies accountable.

Who is exempted?

No governmental offices, agencies or branches are impossible to request from, with the Judicial Branch being subject to Uniform Court Rule 21.

How can requests be submitted?

In-person?

Yes.

Verbally?

Yes.

By mail?

Yes.

By email?

Yes.

How long do they have to respond?

The Georgia Open Records Act gives government offices and agencies 3 days to comply with a request.

[t]he individual in control of such public record or records shall have a reasonable amount of time to determine whether or not the record or records requested are subject to access under this article and to permit inspection and copying. In no event shall this time exceed three business days.” O.C.G.A. § 50-18-70(f).

Are there provisions regarding the extension of response times?

No.

Does the agency have to give you a tracking number or estimated date of completion?

No.

Can they ask why you ask?

No.

What enforcement?

According to the act itself, “[a]ny person knowingly and willfully violating the provisions of this article by failing or refusing to provides access to records not subject to exemption from this article or by failing or refusing to provide access to such records within the time limits set forth in this article shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction shall be punished by a fine not to exceed $100.00.” O.C.G.A. § 50-18-74(a). This can be levied by the Attorney General through the complaint filing system, or through winning a civil action case which can be filed by any person or company.

Fees?

It is permitted under the Georgia Open Records Act that an agency can charge $0.25 per page for copying costs, and more if specifically required by law. Search, retrieval and other administrative costs can also be charged but must be “in the most economical means available,” O.C.G.A. § 50-18-71(c). However, an agency may not charge a search or retrieval fee unless it poses “an unusual administrative cost or burden.” McFrugal Rental v. Garr, 262 Ga. 369, 418 S.E.2d 60 (1992).

Are there fee waivers for media requests or those made in the public interest?

Georgia law does not prohibit waiver of search and copying fees. If one can prove they are acting in the public interest then there is a good chance Georgia will waive the fee if it is a reasonable cost.

Attorney’s fees - Can you win them?

Yes, the act expressly requires them in appropriate cases. “without substantial justification either in not complying with this chapter or in instituting the litigation, the court shall, unless it finds special circumstances exist, assess in favor of the complaining party reasonable attorney fees and other litigation costs reasonably incurred.” O.C.G.A. § 50-18-73(b)

Exemptions and Appeals

What exemptions exist?

Any record deemed confidential by the State of Georgia Disclosure of any inventory with the Department of Natural Resources or any site with the national register of historic places can be exempted to prevent damage or theft to the property. This also holds true for disclosure of natural habitats of endangered or threatened species. Any document that “disclosure of which would compromise security against sabotage or criminal or terrorist acts and the non-disclosure of which is necessary for the protection of life, safety, or public property.” O.C.G.A. § 50-18-72(a)(15)(A). This is strictly limited to security plans and vulnerability assessment for certain structures, and plans for protection against terrorist or other attacks. Any computer program or software used in the operation of any governmental office or agency. Athletic records dealing with children 12 years or younger. “[r]eal estate appraisals, engineering or feasibility estimates, or other records made for or by the state or local agency relative to the acquisition of real property until such time as the property has been acquired or the proposed transaction has been terminated or abandoned” as well as “engineers costs estimates and rejected or deferred bid proposals” in certain public works projects undertaken pursuant to code sections listed in the statute.” See O.C.G.A. § 50-18-72(a)(6)

Do they have to tell you why a portion or pages were redacted or withheld?

Yes, and according to the law they must explain why they were redacted or withheld within 3 business days.

How much time do you have to appeal?

The Georgia Open Records Act does not provide for a specific appeal process. All appeals for requests can be filed at any time with the superior court of the county whose jurisdiction the request in question falls under. It is recommended one does this relatively promptly so as a long delay does not make the truth harder to ascertain.

Can you appeal the courts?

Yes, you have 30 days to file an appeal with the superior court.

Resources

Organizations

Georgia First Amendment Foundation

Attorneys and Law Firms

The following attorneys and law firms have practiced public records law. Names marked with an asterisk have indicated a willingness to offer pro bono services on a case by case basis.

There are currently no experienced public records law attorneys that we know of in Georgia. Write to us at info@MuckRock.com if you know of any and want to help us out!

Successful appeals

News Stories on Public Records Laws in the State

Blogs and feeds primarily focused on public records in Massachusetts

Public Records Guide and Advice

Newsletters

Let us know

Big FOIA wins

Have a public records success story? Let us know!

Stats

Request Record
253 Filed
99 Completed
14 Rejected
76 No Responsive Documents
15 Awaiting Acknowledgement
15 Awaiting Response
19 Requiring Action
30 Overdue
Appeals
None
Allowed Response Time
3 days
Average Response Time
48 days
Success Rate
32.81%
Average Fee
$5439.59
11.86% of requests have a fee

Top Agencies See All

Agency Requests Pages Released
Atlanta Police Department 288 1,794
Department of Corrections 154 965
Georgia Department of Public Safety 70 193
Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department 46 114
Georgia Bureau of Investigation 27 361
Office of the Governor of Georgia 26 95
Georgia World Congress Center Authority 17 8
Hall County (GA) 14 61
Columbus Police Department 14 11
Atlanta Mayor's Office 14 2

Top Localities See All

Jurisdiction Requests Pages Released
Atlanta, GA 315 1,878
Savannah, GA 46 114
Hall County, GA 16 61
Columbus, GA 14 11
Gwinnett County , GA 14 570
Smyrna, GA 12 3
Fulton County, GA 11 11
Coweta County, GA 11 22
Bibb County, GA 7 15
Barrow County, GA 7 57