Providing Copies of Public Records

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In all cases in which a person has the right to inspect public records, he or she also has the right to take extracts or make copies of the record, or to make photographs or photostats of the record while it remains in the possession, custody, and control of the official who has lawful custody of the record.[1] In 1999, the attorney general interpreted this to mean that the Tennessee Public Records Act does not require a public official to make copies and send them to anyone regardless of whether or not they are a citizen of Tennessee.[2] However, this opinion is limited by a subsequent court decision. In the case of Waller v. Bryan,[3] the Tennessee Court of Appeals required public officials to make public records available to members of the public who could not visit the official’s office under certain circumstances. In that case, an inmate appealed the ruling of a chancellor that he was not entitled to requested records which were in the possession of a police department. The local government refused to make copies of the requested records and mail them to the inmate. Obviously, his circumstances did not allow him to appear in person to inspect the records and make a copy. The Court of Appeals held that as long as a citizen can sufficiently identify the requested records so that the government office knows which records to copy, the official should comply with the records request. To refuse to do so merely because the citizen could not appear in person would, in the words of the court, “place form over substance and not be consistent with the clear intent of the Legislature.”[4]  The court observed that a requirement to appear in person would not only limit access to records by inmates, but also all those Tennessee citizens who were prevented by health problems or other physical limitations from appearing at the government office.

            [1]  T.C.A. § 10-7-506(a).

            [2]  Op. Tenn. Att’y Gen. No. 99-067 (March 18, 1999).

            [3]  Waller v. Bryan, 16 S.W.3d 770, ( Tenn. App. 1999).

            [4]  Waller, at 773.