Like many other states, Utah has a mixed-bag reputation for records request. While GRAMA (Government Records Access and Management Act 63G-2-201) is more transparent than some if not most states, allowing for requests to the Governor’s’ Office, the Judicial Branch and Legislative Branch for instance, language can be vague and up for interpretation.
The stated purpose of GRAMA in the Utah legislature’s words was this: (a) promote the public’s right of easy and reasonable access to unrestricted public records; (b) specify those conditions under which the public interest in allowing restrictions on access to records may outweigh the public’s interest in access; (c) prevent abuse of confidentiality by government entities by permitting confidential treatment of records only as provided in this chapter; (d) provide guidelines for both disclosure and restrictions on access to government records, which are based on the equitable weighing of the pertinent interests and which are consistent with nationwide standards of information practices; (e) favor public access when, in the application of this act, countervailing interests are of equal weight; and (f) establish fair and reasonable records management practices. Id. § 63G-2-102(3). Utah uses their own interpretations of the above of course, which makes the law much harder to navigate in practice. In particular, the state can decide for themselves whether a request favors public interest more than the states’ right to keep documents they have deemed too sensitive for public viewing.
GRAMA has been the subject of furious debate in Utah, reaching a particularly heated moment in 2011 when the Utah state legislature gutted GRAMA with HB477, severely limiting public records access by exempting electronic communications and the legislature. After two weeks of outrage from Utahns intent on repealing the act, the Utah state legislature reversed course, apologized for their actions, and repealed the law. Going forward, GRAMA should be watched closely as it is clear there are many different opinions in Utah concerning public records access.
- 10-day response time, 5 if requester can prove that an expedited response time benefits the public not the individual
- Applies to all “governmental entities” meaning all branches and agencies.
- Residents and non-residents may submit requests.
- Bifurcated appeal process. Can appeal to heads of state agencies and then appeal to the State Records Committee without legal counsel. An appeal of the State Records Committee Decision will be held in district court. A recent trend in Utah however has been to bypass the State Records Committee and instead force appellants to use district court directly.
Can you submit a request if you’re not a resident?
Yes. Utah law currently has no provision dictating a residency requirement.
To whom does this apply?
Is there a designated records custodian?
Yes, the State of Utah under GRAMA has a designated State Records Ombudsman who can help advocate for records requests.
Who is exempted?
Utah has a very open public records law, and all governmental entities are fair game to request from. No exemptions.
How can requests be submitted?
Yes. A request may be submitted verbally. However, a verbal request is not an adequate submission style for anything that may eventually be appealed.
How long do they have to respond?
10 Days for citizen, 5 for a media entity or journalist as these professions are presumed to be requesting for publication or broadcast for the public good.
Are there provisions regarding the extension of response times?
There is currently no provision dictating how agencies may extend time after they’ve responded within the initial ten-day period, but does allow for longer response times under “extraordinary circumstances.”
Does the agency have to give you a tracking number or estimated date of completion?
Can they ask why you ask?
No. Nowhere in the law does it say that a records custodian can demand to know the reason for the request. However, records custodians are encouraged to release materials in the public interest.
While the State Records Ombudsman of Utah is in theory supposed to levy enforcement of GRAMA on agencies who fail to comply with the law, in practice this is one of the areas Utah needs the most work on. There is no independent investigative mechanism. When in 2015 the Utah Chapter of the League of Women Voters conducted interviews on the application of GRAMA, they could not find a single case of an offending agency being fined for their violation, even though the permission for fines to be levied is expressly worded in the language of GRAMA.
Utah public records law reserves the state the right to charge “a reasonable fee to cover the governmental entity’s actual cost of providing a record.” (63G-2-203) GRAMA does not explicitly state what one can expect for costs in monetary value, but does mention hourly fees and a list of what tasks that must be completed by government workers to fulfill the records request the requester will be paying for. These can include “the cost of staff time for compiling, formatting, manipulating, packaging, summarizing, or tailoring the record either into an organization or media to meet the person’s request,” or “the cost of staff time for search, retrieval, and other direct administrative costs for complying with a request.” (63G-2-203)
Are there fee waivers for media requests or those made in the public interest?
Yes to both, although Utah has been accused by local journalists of using costs to hold documents hostage. In 2014 Utah Democrats made a request for redistricting information and were met with a $14,000 bill. The appeal for a fee waiver was rejected by the legislative appeals board due to their finding the request not needed for the public good, a necessary part of getting a fee waiver in Utah. Fine print restrictions such as this form the bulk of the criticism of GRAMA.
Attorney’s fees - Can you win them?
No. Under current Utah law, one does not automatically win attorney’s fees in the case that the challenge is won. However, the judge may award them if he wants.
Exemptions and Appeals
What exemptions exist?
Any record the State of Utah has deemed private, controlled or protected can be exempted as well as records whose access is limited under state or federal statute or court order.
Do they have to tell you why a portion or pages were redacted or withheld?
(2) The notice of denial shall contain the following information: (a) a description of the record or portions of the record to which access was denied, provided that the description does not disclose private, controlled, or protected information or information exempt from disclosure under Subsection 63G-2-201(3)(b); (b) citations to the provisions of this chapter, court rule or order, another state statute, federal statute, or federal regulation that exempt the record or portions of the record from disclosure, provided that the citations do not disclose private, controlled, or protected information or information exempt from disclosure under Subsection 63G-2-201(3)(b); (c) a statement that the requester has the right to appeal the denial to the chief administrative officer of the governmental entity; and (d) the time limits for filing an appeal, and the name and business address of the chief administrative officer of the governmental entity.- 63G-2-205
How much time do you have to appeal?
If a request for records is denied by the governmental entity, any person may appeal that decision to the chief administrative officer of that governmental entity by filing a notice of appeal within 30 days. Claims of extraordinary circumstances may also be appealed.(http://www.archives.state.ut.us/recordsmanagement/requesting-records.html)
To whom does the appeal go?<pre>
Appeals go to either the State Records Committee or district court. To file an appeal write to:</pre>
<address> Nova Dubovik<br> 346 S. Rio Grande<br> Salt Lake City, UT 84101-1106<br> </address>
Phone: 801-531-3834 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Can you appeal a delay?
Yes. The statute says they need to respond within 10 days.
Do agencies have to tell you where to send your appeal?
No, you may file through the State Records committee or district court directly. Utah has been noted as preferring appeals go directly through district court.
What if your appeal is denied?
If the State Records Committee denies the appeal, district court is the only other option.
Where else can you turn?
Are all appeals kept officially?
Yes. You can find them on here.
The following organizations offer resources for those seeking public records in Massachusetts.
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 Utah. Write to us at info@MuckRock.com if you know of any and want to help us out!
News Stories on Public Records Laws in the State
Have a good story on Utah public records laws? Let us know
Blogs and feeds primarily focused on public records in Massachusetts
Public Records Guide and Advice
Big FOIA wins
Have a public records success story? Let us know!
- Request Record
- 397 Filed
- 115 Completed
- 25 Rejected
- 103 No Responsive Documents
- 33 Awaiting Acknowledgement
- 28 Awaiting Response
- 36 Requiring Action
- 51 Overdue
- 1 appeal awaiting response
- Allowed Response Time
- 10 days
- Average Response Time
- 63 days
- Success Rate
- Average Fee
- 8.31% of requests have a fee
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|Salt Lake City Police Department||38||1,057|
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|Department of Corrections||32||907|
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|Utah Highway Patrol||17||304|
|Utah Department of Public Safety||17||55|
|Department of Health||12||5|
|Ogden City Police Department||9||19|
|University of Utah||8||94|
|Provo Police Department||8||159|
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|Kane County, UT||4||5|
|Salt Lake County, UT||4||11|