Skip navigation

Comptroller of the Treasury Opinion on PLN Public Records Request re Personal Access 2014

Download original document:
Brief thumbnail
This text is machine-read, and may contain errors. Check the original document to verify accuracy.
James K. Polk State Office Building
505 Deaderick Street, Suite 1700
Nashville, Tennessee 37243-1402
Justin P. Wilson
April 15, 2014
Mr. Alex Friedmann
Via email:
You have requested an opinion from this office that addresses the following issues:
1. Does the Tennessee Public Records Act (hereafter referred to as the “TPRA”)
require a Tennessee citizen to submit a public records request for copies in
person at the office of the governmental entity that maintains the requested
2. Does the TPRA require a Tennessee citizen, who has paid all applicable labor
and copy fees, to retrieve the requested records in person at the office of the
governmental entity that maintains the requested records?
Tenn. Code Ann. Section 10-7-503(a)(2)(A) requires that all public records, whether
maintained by a state, county, or municipal governmental agency, be open for personal
inspection by a citizen of Tennessee during normal business hours, unless there is a
provision within state law that makes the record confidential. Additionally, Tenn. Code
Ann. Section 10-7-506(a) provides that “[i]n all cases where any person has the right to
inspect any such public records, such person shall have the right to take extracts or make
copies thereof . . .” subject to reasonable rules of the records custodian. There is very
little guidance in the TPRA about the types of reasonable rules that a records custodian
can require a requestor to adhere to in order to obtain copies of public records. As such,
many of the questions related how records can be accessed and copies obtained are
addressed through case law.
The court addressed each of the questions presented above in Waller v. Bryan, 16 S.W.
3d 770 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1999). In Waller, the court specifically examined whether or not a
requestor’s “inability to present himself in person to inspect and request copies of the
documents prohibits him from obtaining those copies if he is otherwise entitled to receive
them under the Public Records Act.” Id. at 773. In its analysis, the court determined that
Phone (615) 401-7891 ● Fax (615) 741-1551 ● E-mail

April 15, 2014
Page 2 of 2
if it were to hold that personal appearance was required in order to obtain copies of public
records, that “would mean that any citizen who was unable to personally appear before
the records custodian would be unable to obtain copies of the documents pursuant to the
Public Records Act.” Id. According to the court, such a “restriction would prohibit all
Tennessee citizens who are unable, because of health reasons or other physical
limitations, to appear before the records custodian from obtaining copies of public
documents pursuant to the Public Records Act.” Id. The court concluded that “[s]uch a
result is not consistent with the clear intent of the Legislature” and instead held:
[i]f a citizen can sufficiently identify the documents which he wishes
to obtain copies of so as to enable the custodian of the records to know
which documents are to be copied, the citizen's personal presence
before the record custodian is not required. However, the records
custodian is not required under the Public Records Act to make the
inspection for the citizen requesting the documents. The citizen, to be
able to obtain copies of those documents without making a personal
inspection, must sufficiently identify those documents so that the
records custodian can produce and copy those documents without the
requirement of a search by the records custodian. The records
custodian can require a charge or fee per copy that will cover both the
costs of producing the copies and delivering the copies.
Id. at 774.
Based upon that language above, it is the opinion of this office that, to the extent that a
requestor is able to sufficiently identify the records for which copies are being requested
and has paid all necessary copying, labor and delivery fees associated with producing the
requested copies, the requestor is not required to appear in person either to submit a
public records request or retrieve the requested records.

Elisha D. Hodge
Open Records Counsel

Phone (615) 401-7891 ● Fax (615) 741-1551 ● E-mail