Public Records Act Does Not Require Creation of New Records

The First Appellate District Court held that an agency may not be compelled under the California Public Records Act to manipulate the data in existing documents so as to create new documents.

Richard Sander and the First Amendment Coalition filed a petition for writ of mandate seeking to obtain information from the State Bar of California's bar admissions database. Specifically, they sought records for all applicants to the California Bar Examination from 1972 to 2008 in the following categories: race or ethnicity, law school, transfer status, year of law school graduation, law school and undergraduate GPA, LSAT scores, and performance on the bar examination. Petitioners proposed four protocols for recoding the original data in the records into new values (1) to protect the applicants anonymity and (2) to convert the data into the various categories needed by petitioners for their research.

The trial court upheld the State Bar's denial of petitioners' request.

The court of appeal affirmed, holding that petitioners' request was beyond the purview of the CPRA because it would compel the State Bar to create new records. The court found it well established under California law and guiding federal precedent under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that, while the CPRA requires public agencies to provide access to their existing records, it does not require them to create new records to satisfy a request. At issue here was not the mere redaction of records to protect anonymity, but, rather, the replacement of redacted data with new data, through a series of complex data manipulations. Each of the four protocols proposed by petitioners would require the State Bar to recode its original data into new values. The trial court properly found that the State Bar could not be compelled to create a new record by changing the substantive content of its existing records or replacing existing data with new data.

Sander v. State Bar of California, August 27, 2018

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