July 24, 1995

In re: James Lee Evans/City of Louisville Division of Police


This matter comes to the Attorney General on appeal from the City of Louisville, Division of Police's denial of James Lee Evans's April 20, 1995, request to inspect records generated by the Division of Police prior to September 1, 1986, and relating to any criminal investigation(s) into his activities. In his request, Mr. Evans stated:

I've been in Federal Prison since September 1986. So I'm looking for records from September 1, 1986 and before. I feel the City of Louisville Police had an ongoing investigation on me from approximately 1975 to 1986 when I was arrested by the Feds.

I'm not only looking for my arrest records but also any and all records pertaining to investigation, phone tapes, phone records, surveillance reports, etc.

On behalf of the Louisville Division of Police, Paul V. Guagliardo, senior attorney in the City's Department of Law, denied Mr. Evans's request. He explained that the Records Center has no arrest record for the period in question. With respect to Mr. Evans's request for "any and all records pertaining to investigations," Mr. Guagliardo responded that the request could be characterized as a blanket request insofar as it fails to identify with reasonable particularity the records he wishes to inspect. Citing KRS 61.872(3)(b) and (6), as well as OAG 91-58, he denied that portion of the request. Additionally, Mr. Guagliardo noted that if such records existed, they would be exempted from inspection by operation of KRS 61.878(1)(j), (k), and (l), and KRS 17.150(2), as well as OAG 81-161.

The question presented in this appeal is whether the City of Louisville violated the provisions of KRS 61.870 to 61.884 in denying Mr. Evans's request. For the reasons set forth below, and upon the authorities cited, we conclude that the City properly denied the request.

In OAG 92-56 and a number of subsequent decisions, this office examined the respective duties of a requester in framing, and a public agency in responding to, a request for public records. It is instructive to quote from that decision at length:

[A]lthough the purpose and intent of the Open Records Act is to permit the "free and open examination of public records . . .," this right of access is not absolute. KRS 61.882(4). As a precondition to inspection, a requesting party must identify with "reasonable particularity" those documents which he wishes to review. OAG 89-81; OAG 91-58. Thus, in a series of opinions, we have held that "[b]lanket requests for information on a particular subject without specifying certain documents need not be honored." OAG 76-375; OAG 83-386; OAG 85-88; OAG 89-8; OAG 89-61; OAG 91-58. Elaborating on this position, in OAG 89-8, at p. 2, we observed:

The Open Records Act provides in part in KRS 61.872(1) that all public records, with certain exceptions, shall be open for public inspection. While persons will obviously acquire information from these records, the primary purpose of the Act is making records available for public inspection. The Act does not require a public agency to provide information beyond that which is made available from permitting access to the public documents. Thus, if the agency is to provide access to public documents the person seeking to inspect those documents must identify them with sufficient clarity to enable the public agency to locate and make them available.

If a requester cannot describe the documents he wishes to inspect with sufficient specificity there is no requirement that the public agency conduct a search for such material. OAG 84-342; OAG 89-8.

See also, 93-ORD-116; 94-ORD-12. Those decisions echoed the position which was first articulated by the Attorney General in OAG 76-375, and are premised on the notion that:

[Public] agencies and employees are the servants of the people as stated in the Preamble to the Open Records Act, but they are the servants of all the people and not only of persons who may make extreme and unreasonable demands on their time.

It is thus incumbent on a requester, in framing his request, to describe the records he seeks to inspect with reasonable particularity. If he does not, the agency is not obligated to conduct a search for the records.

Mr. Evans requests copies of "any and all records pertaining to investigation[s] . . ." into his activities ".Ê.Ê. from approximately 1975 to 1986 . . . ." As Mr. Guagliardo correctly observes:

[F]or the Division of Police to be able to respond to [Mr. Evans's] request would require it to inquire of all officers-- current or past--and all units whether anyone recalls there ever being an inves- tigation into the activities of James Lee Evans without knowing what type of investigation, the nature of illegal activity being investigated, the identities of associates of Mr. Evans who may in fact have been the focus of some investigations, etc.

In the City's view, Mr. Evans's request "is so lacking in particularity--based, as he admits, on a 'feeling'--that it comes within the purview of KRS 61.872[(6)]." We concur.

KRS 61.872(3)(a) and (b) provide:

A person may inspect the public records:

(a) During the regular office hours of the public agency; or

(b) By receiving copies of the public records from the public agency through the mail. The public agency shall mail copies of the public records to a person whose residence or principal place of business is outside the county in which the public records are located after he precisely describes the public records which are readily available within the public agency. If the person requesting the public records requests that copies of the records be mailed, the official custodian shall mail the copies upon receipt of all fees and the cost of mailing.

(Emphasis added.) While it is true, as Mr. Evans argues in his letter of appeal, that since July 14, 1992, when the Open Records Act was amended to permit inspection of records by receipt of copies through the mail, a public agency cannot avoid its obligations under the Act relative to prison inmates by asserting that the right to copies is ancillary to the right of inspection, the Act, as amended, places two conditions on the exercise of this alternative method of inspection. First, the requester must "precisely describe[ ]" the public records which he wishes to inspect. Second, those records must be "readily available within the public agency."

Mr. Evans's request apparently fails to meet both of these conditions. Clearly, he has failed to describe with any degree of precision the specific records he wishes to receive copies of. In addition, based on Mr. Guagliardo's statements in his June 27 letter to this office, if such records exist at all, [1] they are widely dispersed within the Division, and not maintained in a filing system which would facilitate ready access. While under some circumstances, a requester might be permitted to conduct a "fishing expedition through public records on his own time and under reasonable restrictions and safeguards imposed by the public agency," see, e.g., OAG 76-375; OAG 90-83, p. 4, Mr. Evans's confinement at the federal penitentiary in Manchester, Kentucky, effectively forecloses the exercise of this option. We therefore conclude that the City of Louisville Division of Police properly denied Mr. Evans's request on the grounds that it is not obligated to honor blanket requests for information on a particular subject.

The Division of Police's Records Center has ascertained that there is no arrest record for Mr. Evans for the eleven year period identified in his request, and has so advised him. This response was entirely consistent with the Open Records Act insofar as a public agency cannot produce a record which does not exist. See, e.g., 94-ORD-51.

A party aggrieved by this decision may appeal it by initiating action in the appropriate circuit court. Pursuant to KRS 61.880(3), the Attorney General shall be notified of any action in circuit court, but shall not be named as a party in that action or in any subsequent proceedings.






Distributed to:

Hon. Paul V. Guagliardo

Senior Attorney

City of Louisville

Department of Law

Room 200, City Hall

Louisville, KY 40202-2771

Mr. James Lee Evans

Reg. No. 90749-098

P.O. Box 4000, C-A

Manchester, KY 40962-4000


[1]As noted, in view of the nonspecificity of Mr. Evans's request, the City is not obligated to conduct a search to determine if records exist which might satisfy the requester.