FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

 

In the Matter of a Request
    for Advisory Opinion


 

     Advisory Opinion   #59

William Olds, Executive Director, Connecticut Civil Liberties Union, Applicant

    

 

 

 

On August 22, 1984, the Commission considered and agreed to respond to the request for an advisory opinion filed by William Olds, Executive Director of the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union.

 

In his request, the applicant notes that requests for the copying of public records under the Freedom of Information Act often require the services of public agency personnel. Specifically, an agency may use its personnel to retrieve the files whose contents are to be copied, to copy or monitor the copying of the records requested and to verify and return the records intact upon completion of the copying process. According to the applicant, there is confusion among some public officials and some members of the public with respect to the imposition of fees that agencies may charge for the time their personnel are engaged in these activities.

 

In essence, the applicant seeks the Commission's opinion as to whether under Conn. Gen. Stat. 1‑15 a public agency may charge a person who requests a copy of public records for the time spent by the agency's own personnel in retrieving the requested records, copying them or monitoring their copying, and verifying and returning them intact.

 

For the reasons set forth below, it is the Commission's opinion that under Conn. Gen. Stat.1‑15 an agency cannot require the imposition of charges for the time spent by the agency's own personnel in retrieving the requested records, copying them or monitoring their copying, and verifying and returning them intact.

 

In its Advisory opinion #30, the Commission stated that the cost of copying provisions of the Freedom of Information Act would be superseded by a statute of specific applicability providing for a different cost of copying scheme. In the absence of such a statute, however, the cost of copying provisions in Conn. Gen. Stat.1‑15 govern. That section states in relevant part that:

 

 

 

The fee for any copy provided in accordance with this section and sections 1‑18a, 1‑19 to 1‑19b, inclusive, and 1‑21 to 1‑21k. inclusive, shall not exceed twenty‑five cents per page. If any copy provided in accordance with said sections requires a printout or transcription, or if any person applies for a printout or transcription of a public record, the fee for such printout or transcription shall not exceed the cost thereof to the public agency. A public agency may require the prepayment of any fee required or permitted under this chapter if such fee is estimated to be ten dollars or more. The sales tax provided in chapter 219 shall not be imposed upon any transaction for which a fee is required or permissible under this section or section 1‑21c.... Except as otherwise provided by law, the fee for any person who has the custody of any public records or files for certifying any copy of such records or files, or certifying to any fact appearing therefrom, shall be for the first page of such certificate, or copy and certificate, one dollar; and for each additional page, fifty cents. For the purpose of computing such fee, such copy and certificate shall be deemed to be one continuous instrument

 

The Commission has also held that an agency has the right to take those steps necessary to protect its public records from destruction or mutilation. See the Commission's Advisory Opinion #51. These steps may properly include the supervision by agency personnel of the records from their storage place, through copying and back to their storage place. Id.

 

In the case of a request for a copy of a public record which does not require a printout or transcription, the maximum per page fee is clear. It may not exceed twenty‑five cents per page for an uncertified page or record. One dollar may be added to this cost for the first page and fifty cents for each subsequent page if a certified copy is requested. These charges for certification may also be added to printouts or transcriptions.

 

The cost for a copy of a non‑printout or non‑transcription record is statutorily fixed and bears no legal relationship to the actual cost for producing the requested copy. The commission believes, however, that if an agency's actual cost of copying is less than the maximum amount that may be permissibly charged, it should charge the lesser amount. Such a reduction would certainly be in keeping with the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act which seeks to make government more open and accessible to the people whom it serves. See for example that portion of 1‑15 that requires a public agency to waive the cost of copying where compliance with the request would benefit the public welfare.

 

 

 

 

 

In the case of a request for a copy of a public record which requires a printout or transcription, the maximum per page fee is not fixed. The statute provides that such fee may be established by reference to actual cost, but it may not exceed that cost. The question then becomes whether the particular personnel costs described in this opinion may be included in the computation of actual cost.

 

It is the Commission's opinion that for purposes of S‑15 such personnel costs may not be included in the computation of those costs that may be charged to the requester. The Commission believes that the inclusion of these items would run contrary to the legislative policy embodied in the Freedom of Information Act. It would permit agencies to build high per page cost of copying charges merely by establishing procedures that would make the retrieval, oversight and return of records relatively difficult and time consuming. Such a loophole would certainly not result in the greater public access that the Freedom of Information Act was designed to facilitate.

 

The Commission stresses that this opinion should not be construed as stating that all personnel costs may be excluded from chargeable fees for requested printouts or transcriptions of public records. This opinion is specifically limited to those personnel costs dealing with the retrieval of files whose contents are to be copied, the copying or monitoring of the copying of the records requested and the verification and return of the records intact upon completion of the copying process.

 

 

 

                                                                                            By Order of the Freedom of
                                                                                            Information Commission

                                                                                           

                                                                                ________________________
                                                                                            Judith A. Lahey, Chairman of
                                                                                            of the Freedom of Information
                                                                                            Commission

Date ___________________

 

Ordered_________________

Mary Jo Jolicoeur
Clerk of the Commission