State of Rhode Island
OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
150 South Main Street- Providence, Rl 02903
(401) 274-4400 www.riag.ri.gov
Peter F. Neronha
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VIA EMAIL ONLY
June 13, 2023
Ms. Christina Rourke
David M. Shein. Esquire
Assistant City Solicitor, City of Providence
Re: Rourke v. City of Providence
Dear Ms. Rourke and Attorney Shein:
We have completed the investigation into the Access to Public Records Act (“APRA”) Complaint filed by Ms. Christina Rourke (“Complainant”) against the City of Providence (“City”). For the reasons set forth herein, we find that the City violated the APRA.
On April 3, 2023, the Complainant submitted an APRA request to the City for “[d]ates held by [the Providence Police Department] PPD of Women's Self Defense lessons for public participation 2011- Present day.” On April 21, 2023, the Complainant filed the instant Complaint, alleging that the City failed to timely respond to her request.
Attorney David M. Shein, Assistant City Solicitor, submitted a substantive response on behalf of the City. The City stated that on April 18, 2023, due to the volume of pending requests, it invoked a twenty (20) business day extension pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 38-2-3(e). The City conceded that due to an oversight it did not communicate this extension to the Complainant. The City further stated in its response that it had no records responsive to the Complainant’s request.
When we examine an APRA complaint, our authority is to determine whether a violation of the APRA has occurred. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 38-2-8. In doing so, we must begin with the plain language of the APRA and relevant caselaw interpreting the statute.
Pursuant to the APRA, upon receipt of a records request, a public body must respond in some capacity within ten (10) business days, either by producing responsive documents, denying the request with specific reason(s), or, for “good cause,” extending the time period necessary to comply. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 38-2-3. The public body may extend the time to respond by an additional twenty (20) business days if it can “demonstrate that the voluminous nature of the request, the number of requests for records pending, or the difficulty in searching for and retrieving or copying the requested records is such that additional time is necessary to avoid imposing an undue burden on the public body.” Id.
Here, although the City did invoke a twenty (20) business day extension internally, it did not communicate the same to the Complainant. It is therefore undisputed that the City did not respond to the Complainant’s request within the ten (10) business day period set forth in the statute. Id. Accordingly, we conclude that City violated the APRA.
Upon a finding of an APRA violation, the Attorney General may file a complaint in Superior Court on behalf of the Complainant, requesting “injunctive or declaratory relief.” See R.I. Gen. Laws § 38-2-8(b). A court “shall impose a civil fine not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000) against a public body... found to have committed a knowing and willful violation of this chapter, and a civil fine not to exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000) against a public body found to have recklessly violated this chapter***.” See R.I. Gen. Laws § 38-2-9(d).
Here, although the City did not respond to the APRA request in a timely manner, we do not find injunctive relief to be appropriate because it is undisputed that the City does not maintain records responsive to the Complainant’s request. The City’s position has also been communicated to the Complainant through, at the very least, the City’s communications with this Office that were copied to the Complainant.
We also do not find the City’s APRA violation to be willful and knowing, or reckless, nor are we aware of any recent, similar violations by City. Nevertheless, this finding serves as notice to the City that its conduct violated the APRA and may serve as evidence in a future similar situation of a willful and knowing, or alternatively reckless, violation.
Although the Attorney General will not file suit in this matter, nothing within the APRA prohibits an individual from instituting an action for injunctive or declaratory relief in Superior Court. See R.I. Gen Laws § 38-2-8(b). Please be advised that we will be closing our file as of the date of this finding.
We thank you for your interest in keeping government open and accountable to the public.
PETER F. NERONHA
/s/ Adam D. Roach
Adam D. Roach
Special Assistant Attorney General