The CPRA Is Not A Records Retention Statute

CATEGORY: Client Update for Public Agencies
CLIENT TYPE: Public Employers
DATE: Dec 07, 2023

The California Public Records Act (CPRA) gives the public access to government records. Law Foundation of Silicon Valley (Foundation) is a nonprofit legal services organization.  The Foundation made CPRA requests to the City of Gilroy as part of the Foundation’s investigation into the City’s cleanups of homeless encampments.  The City responded by claiming various categories of requested records were exempt from disclosure, including body camera footage, some of which had been erased pursuant to the department’s policies.  The City did, however, produce about one hour of footage, and withheld only 10 minutes as exempt.

Dissatisfied with City’s responses, the Foundation filed: a petition for writ of mandate to get more records; and a complaint for declaratory relief alleging that the City had violated the CPRA by failing to preserve responsive records it claimed were exempt.  The trial court denied the writ of mandate but granted declaratory relief for the Foundation.  Both parties then sued to reverse those results.

The California Court of Appeal overruled the trial court.  It found that the Foundation was not entitled to a declaration that the City violated the CPRA by failing to preserve records the City claimed were exempt.  The CPRA provides no remedy other than to determine whether a particular record or class of records must be disclosed.  And, the trial court had already found the City properly withheld the 10 minutes of bodycam footage.

In addition, the Court of Appeal held that the CPRA is not a records retention statute.  The CPRA does not require public agencies to keep records or preserve records once a public records request has been made.  The City’s record retention schedule for bodycam videos was consistent with another provision of California’s law.  The CPRA also does not require public agencies to retain records that are potentially responsive to a public records request.

City of Gilroy v. The Superior Court of Santa Clara Cnty., 96 Cal. App. 5th 818 (2023), as modified.

Key TakeawayThe CPRA does not require a public agency to preserve or retain records.

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