California Recognizes “Constructive Denial” Doctrine Under Public Records Act

By Steven Zansberg, June 2022, Media Law Resource Center

On June 17, 2022, California’s Court of Appeals (First District) held that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is not exempt from complying with the mandatory 24-day deadline for issuing its “determination” regarding public records requests, and that any records requester who does not receive such “determination” within that timeframe has the right, on the twenty-fifth day. to file a petition for review, under the “constructive denial” doctrine.

The landmark ruling came in a case brought by investigative reporter Brandon Rittiman. The court’s holding that the reporter was entitled to bring his lawsuit challenging the non-response [by CPUC] has far-reaching consequences and has been hailed as a major victory for transparency in California.  While the ruling is limited on its face to the CPUC, which argued that its unique constitutional authority and the specific Public Utilities Code provisions rendered it immune from the more general provision of the Public Records Act (PRA), it logically applies to all California agencies (state, county, city, and town–based government offices) that are subject to the PRA and its strict response deadline.

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