Tennessee Public Records Statutes

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The public records statutes that do apply to county offices are found in Title 10, Chapter 7, Part 5 of the Tennessee Code Annotated. The starting point for a discussion of the law in this area is the declaration found in T.C.A. § 10-7-503, that government records are open to public inspection. It reads as follows:

... [A]ll state, county and municipal records ... except any public documents authorized to be destroyed by the county public records commission in accordance with § 10-7-404, shall at all times, during business hours, be open for personal inspection by any citizen of Tennessee, and those in charge of such records shall not refuse such right of inspection to any citizen, unless otherwise provided by state law.[1]

This statute has been construed broadly by the both the state attorney general and the Tennessee judiciary.[2]The legislature made it clear that its intent in passing this law was to “...give the fullest possible public access to public records” and it instructed the courts to exercise whatever remedies are necessary to ensure that purpose is fulfilled.[3]The courts have ruled that a “presumption of openness” exists with government documents.[4]  That is not to say that public access is totally without limitation however.

           [1]T.C.A. § 10-7-503.

            [2]See generally, Memphis Publishing Co. v. Holt, 710 S.W.2d 513 (Tenn. 1986).

            [3]T.C.A. § 10-7-505(d).

            [4]Griffin v. City of Knoxville, 821 S.W.2d 921, 924 (Tenn. 1991).