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DE Freedom of Information Act

DELAWARE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT

(29 Del. Code, Chapter 100)

10001. Declaration of policy.

It is vital in a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner so that our citizens shall have the opportunity to observe the performance of public officials and to monitor the decisions that are made by such officials in formulating and executing public policy; and further, it is vital that citizens have easy access to public records in order that the society remain free and democratic. Toward these ends, and to further the accountability of government to the citizens of this State, this chapter is adopted, and shall be construed.

10002. Definitions.

(a) "Agenda" shall include but is not limited to a general statement of the major issues expected to be discussed at a public meeting, as well as a statement of intent to hold an executive session and the specific ground or grounds therefor under subsection (b) of 10004 of this title.

(b) "Meeting" means the formal or informal gathering of a quorum of the members of any public body for the purpose of discussing or taking action on public business.

(c) "Public body" means, unless specifically excluded, any regulatory, administrative, advisory, executive, appointive or legislative body of the State, or of any political subdivision of the State, including, but not limited to, any board, bureau, commission, department, agency, committee, ad hoc committee, special committee, temporary committee, advisory board and committee, subcommittee, legislative committee, association, group, panel, council or any other entity or body established by an act of the General Assembly of the State, or established by any body established by the General Assembly of the State, or appointed by any body or public official of the State or otherwise empowered by any state governmental entity, which: (1) Is supported in whole or in part by any public funds; or (2) expends or disburses any public funds, including

grants, gifts or other similar disbursals and distributions; or (3) is impliedly or specifically charged by any other public official, body, or agency to advise or to make reports, investigations or recommendations. Public body shall not include the General Assembly of the State, nor any caucus thereof, or committee, subcommittee, ad hoc committee, special committee or temporary committee.

(d) "Public body," "public record" and "meeting" shall not include activities of the University of Delaware and Delaware State University, except that the Board of Trustees of the University and the Board of Trustees of the University shall be "public bodies," and University and University documents relating to the expenditure of public funds shall be "public records," and each meeting of the full Board of Trustees of either institution shall be a "meeting."

(e) "Public business" means any matter over which the public body has supervision, control, jurisdiction or advisory power.

(f) "Public funds" are those funds derived from the State or any political subdivision of the State.

(g) "Public record" is information of any kind, owned, made, used, retained, received, produced, composed, drafted or otherwise compiled or collected, by any public body, relating in any way to public business, or in any way of public interest, or in any way related to public purposes, regardless of the physical form or characteristic by which such information is stored, recorded or

reproduced. For purposes of this chapter, the following records shall not be deemed public:

(1) Any personnel, medical or pupil file, the disclosure of which would constitute an invasion of personal privacy, under this legislation or under any State or federal law as it relates to personal privacy;

(2) Trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person which is of a privileged or confidential nature;

(3) Investigatory files compiled for civil or criminal law-enforcement purposes including pending investigative files, pretrial and presentence investigations and child custody and adoption files where there is no criminal complaint at issue;

(4) Criminal files and criminal records, the disclosure of which would constitute an invasion of personal privacy. Any person may, upon proof of identity, obtain a copy of the person's personal criminal record. All other criminal records and files are closed to public scrutiny. Agencies holding such criminal records may delete any information, before release, which would

disclose the names of witnesses, intelligence personnel and aids or any other information of a privileged and confidential nature;

(5) Intelligence files compiled for law-enforcement purposes, the disclosure of which could constitute an endangerment to the local, state or national welfare and security;

(6) Any records specifically exempted from public disclosure by statute or common law;

(7) Any records which disclose the identity of the contributor of a bona fide and lawful charitable contribution to the public body whenever public anonymity has been requested of the public body with respect to said contribution by the contributor;

(8) Any records involving labor negotiations or collective bargaining;

(9) Any records pertaining to pending or potential litigation which are not records of any court;

(10) Subject to subsection (f) of 10004 of this title with respect to release of minutes of executive sessions, any record of discussions held in executive session pursuant to subsections (b) and (c) of 10004 of this title;

(11) Any records which disclose the identity or address of any person holding a permit to carry a concealed deadly weapon; provided, however, all records relating to such permits shall be available to all bona fide law-enforcement officers;

(12) Any records of a public library which contain the identity of a user and the books, documents, films, recordings or other property of the library which a patron has used;

(13) Any records in the possession of the Department of Correction where disclosure is sought by an inmate in the Department's custody;

(14) Investigative files compiled or maintained by the Violent Crimes Compensation Board;

(15) Any photographs, video recordings or audio recordings of a postmortem examination in the possession of the office of the Chief Medical Examiner; or

(16)a. The following records, which, if copied or inspected, could jeopardize the security of any structure owned by the State or any of its political subdivisions, or could facilitate the planning of a terrorist attack, or could endanger the life or physical safety of an individual:

1. Response procedures or plans prepared to prevent or respond to emergency situations, the disclosure of which would reveal vulnerability assessments, specific tactics, specific emergency procedures or specific security procedures.

2. Building plans, blueprints, schematic drawings, diagrams, operational manuals or other records of mass transit facilities, bridges, tunnels, emergency response facilities or structures, buildings where hazardous materials are used or stored, arenas, stadiums, waste and water systems, electric transmission lines and substations, high-pressure natural gas pipelines and compressor stations, and telecommunications networks facilities and switching equipment,

the disclosure of which would reveal the building's or structure's internal layout, specific location, life, safety and support systems, structural elements, surveillance techniques, alarm or security systems or technologies, operational and transportation plans or protocols, or personnel deployments. Records that disclose the substances being used or stored on a given piece of

property are public records; however, records which disclose the specific location on that property of the substances being used or stored may be disclosed only if the chief administrative officer of the agency from which the record is requested determines that disclosure will not jeopardize the security of any structure owned by the State or any of its political subdivisions, or

will not facilitate the planning of a terrorist attack, or will not endanger the life or physical safety of an individual.

3. Records of any building or structure operated by the State or any of its political subdivisions, the disclosure of which would reveal the building's or structure's life, safety and support systems, surveillance techniques, alarm or security systems or technologies, operational and evacuation plans or protocols, or personnel deployments.

4. Records prepared to prevent or respond to emergency situations identifying or describing the name, location, pharmaceutical cache, contents, capacity, equipment, physical features or capabilities of individual medical facilities, storage facilities, or laboratories established, maintained or regulated by the State or any of its political subdivisions.

5. Those portions of records assembled, prepared or maintained to prevent, mitigate or respond to criminal acts, the public disclosure of which would have a substantial likelihood of threatening public safety. The only items that are protected from disclosure by this paragraph are:

A. Specific and unique vulnerability assessments or specific and unique response or deployment plans, including compiled underlying data collected in preparation of or essential to the assessments or to the response or deployment plans; and

B. Records not subject to public disclosure under federal law that are shared by federal or international agencies and information prepared from national security briefings provided to state or local government officials related to domestic preparedness for criminal acts against United States citizens or targets.

6. Nothing in this subsection shall be deemed to prohibit the disclosure of information necessary to comply with the requirements of Chapter 8 of Title 26, the Underground Utility Damage Prevention and Safety Act.

b. Nothing in this paragraph shall interfere with the right of any committee of the General Assembly to hear information in the committee at the request of the committee chair or, if appropriate, to hear information in an executive session of the committee, or to subpoena information pursuant to 705 of this title.

10003. Examination and copying of public records.

(a) All public records shall be open to inspection and copying by any citizen of the State during regular business hours by the custodian of the records for the appropriate public body. Reasonable access to and reasonable facilities for copying of these records shall not be denied to any citizen. If the record is in active use or in storage and, therefore, not available at the time a citizen requests access, the custodian shall so inform the citizen and make an appointment for said citizen to examine such records as expediently as they may be made available. Any reasonable expense involved in the copying of such records shall be levied as a charge on the citizen requesting such copy.

(b) It shall be the responsibility of the public body to establish rules and regulations regarding access to public records as well as fees charged for copying of such records.

10004. Open meetings.

(a) Every meeting of all public bodies shall be open to the public except those closed pursuant to subsections (b), (c), (d) and (g) of this section.

(b) A public body may call for an executive session closed to the public pursuant to subsections (c) and (e) of this section, but only for the following purposes:

(1) Discussion of an individual citizen's qualifications to hold a job or pursue training unless the citizen requests that such a meeting be open. This provision shall not apply to the discussion by a licensing board or commission which is subject to the provisions of 8810 of this title, of an individual citizen's qualifications to pursue any profession or occupation for which a license must be issued by the public body in accordance with Delaware law;

(2) Preliminary discussions on site acquisitions for any publicly funded capital improvements;

(3) Activities of any law-enforcement agency in its efforts to collect information leading to criminal apprehension;

(4) Strategy sessions, including those involving legal advice or opinion from an attorney-at-law, with respect to collective bargaining or pending or potential litigation, but only when an open meeting would have an adverse effect on the bargaining or litigation position of the public body;

(5) Discussions which would disclose the identity of the contributor of a bona fide and lawful charitable contribution to the public body whenever public anonymity has been requested of the public body with respect to said contribution by the contributor;

(6) Discussion of the content of documents, excluded from the definition of "public record" in 10002 of this title where such discussion may disclose the contents of such documents;

(7) The hearing of student disciplinary cases unless the student requests a public hearing;

(8) The hearing of employee disciplinary or dismissal cases unless the employee requests a public hearing;

(9) Personnel matters in which the names, competency and abilities of individual employees or students are discussed, unless the employee or student requests that such a meeting be open.

(c) A public body may hold an executive session closed to the public upon affirmative vote of a majority of members present at a meeting of the public body. The vote on the question of holding an executive session shall take place at a meeting of the public body which shall be open to the public, and the results of the vote shall be made public and shall be recorded in the minutes. The purpose of such executive sessions shall be set forth in the agenda and shall be limited to the purposes listed in subsection (b) of this section. Executive sessions may be held only for the discussion of public business, and all voting on public business must take place at a public meeting and the results of the vote made public.

(d) This section shall not prohibit the removal of any person from a public meeting who is willfully and seriously disruptive of the conduct of such meeting.

(e) (1) This subsection concerning notice of meetings shall not apply to any emergency meeting which is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety, or to the General Assembly.

(2) All public bodies shall give public notice of their regular meetings and of their intent to hold an executive session closed to the public, at least 7 days in advance thereof. The notice shall include the agenda, if such has been determined at the time, and the dates, times and places of such meetings; however, the agenda shall be subject to change to include additional items including executive sessions or the deletion of items including executive sessions which arise at the time of the public body's meeting.

(3) All public bodies shall give public notice of the type set forth in paragraph (2) of this subsection of any special or rescheduled meeting as soon as reasonably possible, but in any event no later than 24 hours before such meeting. A special or rescheduled meeting shall be defined as one to be held less than 7 days after the scheduling decision is made. The public notice of a special or rescheduled meeting shall include an explanation as to why the notice required by paragraph (1) of this subsection could not be given.

(4) Public notice required by this subsection shall include, but not be limited to, conspicuous posting of said notice at the principal office of the public body holding the meeting, or if no such office exists at the place where meetings of the public body are regularly held, and making a reasonable number of such notices available.

(5) When the agenda is not available as of the time of the initial posting of the public notice it shall be added to the notice at least 6 hours in advance of said meeting, and the reasons for the delay in posting shall be briefly set forth on the agenda.

(f) Each public body shall maintain minutes of all meetings, including executive sessions, conducted pursuant to this section, and shall make such minutes available for public inspection and copying as a public record. Such minutes shall include a record of those members present and a record, by individual members (except where the public body is a town assembly where all citizens are entitled to vote), of each vote taken and action agreed upon. Such minutes or portions thereof, and any public records pertaining to executive sessions conducted pursuant to this section, may be withheld from public disclosure so long as public disclosure would defeat the lawful purpose for the executive session, but no longer.

(g) Every regularly scheduled meeting of a public body shall be held within the geographic jurisdiction of that public body. All such other meetings shall be held as follows:

(1) A public body serving any political subdivision of the State, including, but not limited to, any city, town or school district, shall hold all such other meetings within its jurisdiction or the county in which its principal office is located, unless it is school board training that has been approved by the Secretary of Education as beneficial to school board development activities.

(2) For the purposes of this subsection, a "regularly scheduled meeting" shall mean any meeting of a public body held on a periodic basis.

(3) The provisions of this subsection, insofar as they are not practicable, shall not apply to any emergency meeting which is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety, or to a meeting held by a public body outside of its jurisdiction which is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public financial welfare.

(h) This section shall not apply to the proceedings of:

(1) Grand juries;

(2) Petit juries;

(3) Special juries;

(4) The deliberations of any court;

(5) The Board of Pardons and Parole;

(6) Public bodies having only 1 member;

(7) a. The Violent Crimes Compensation Board may close any meeting to the public where:

1. The claim to be considered derives from any sexual offense within the definitions of a crime in 9002 of Title 11.

2. The claims to be considered derives from any offense by or against a child, as defined in this section, unless such child has been deemed amenable to the jurisdiction of a criminal court as to the matter before the Board.

3. The claim to be considered derives from any matter not yet adjudicated.

4. The claim to be considered involves a "victim" who is a "child" as those terms are defined in Chapter 90 of Title 11.

b. The Board shall produce a complete record of any proceedings closed to the public which record may be denied to anyone seeking access for good cause shown; and

(8) The deliberations of the following agencies for any case decision governed by the Administrative Procedures Act in Chapter 101 of this title:

a. State Human Relations Commission;

b. Industrial Accident Board; and

c. Tax Appeals Board.

(i) In an enforcement action pursuant to 10005 of this title, a citizen or the Attorney General, as the case may be, may seek the forfeiture of all or part of the compensation of members of a board, commission or other public body for any closed meeting which such board, commission or other public body closed knowing that such action violated this chapter. Such forfeiture may only be ordered by the Court if the Court makes a specific finding that the board, commission or public body had no good faith basis to believe that the meeting could be closed. It shall be an absolute defense that an individual never voted in favor of the closed meeting. If the board, commission or public body also met validity for other purposes on the same day as the meeting which violated the act, such valid action shall be considered by the Court in determining the extent of any forfeiture award.

10005. Enforcement.

(a) Any action taken at a meeting in violation of this chapter may be voidable by the Court of Chancery. Any citizen may challenge the validity under this chapter of any action of a public body by filing suit within 60 days of the citizen's learning of such action but in no event later than 6 months after the date of the action.

(b) Any citizen denied access to public records as provided in this chapter may bring suit within 60 days of such denial. Venue in such cases where access to public records is denied shall be placed in a court of competent jurisdiction for the county or city in which the public body ordinarily meets or in which the plaintiff resides.

(c) In any action brought under this section, the burden of proof shall be on the custodian of records to justify the denial of access to records, and shall be on the public body to justify a decision to meet in executive session or any failure to comply with this chapter.

(d) Remedies permitted by this section include an injunction, a declaratory judgment, writ of mandamus and/or other appropriate relief. The court may award attorney fees and costs to a successful plaintiff of any action brought under this section. The court may award attorney fees and costs to a successful defendant, but only if the court finds that the action was frivolous or was brought solely for the purpose of harassment.

(e) Any citizen may petition the Attorney General to determine whether a violation of this chapter has occurred or is about to occur. The petition shall set forth briefly the nature of the alleged violation. Upon receiving a petition, the Attorney General shall, within 10 days, notify in writing the custodian of records or public body involved. Within 20 days of receiving the petition, the Attorney General shall make a written determination of whether a violation has occurred or is about to occur, and shall provide the citizen and any custodian of records or public body involved with a copy of the determination. If the Attorney General finds that a violation of this chapter has occurred or is about occur, the citizen may: (1) File suit as set forth in this chapter; or (2) request in writing that the Attorney General file suit on the citizen's behalf. If such request is made, the Attorney General may file suit, and shall within 15 days notify the citizen of the decision to file suit, unless the custodian of records or public body has agreed to comply with this chapter. The citizen shall have the absolute right to file suit regardless of the determination of the Attorney General, and may move to intervene as a party in any suit filed by the Attorney General.

(f) Subsection (e) of this section shall not apply to an alleged violation by an administrative office or officer, agency, department, board, commission or instrumentality of state government which the Attorney General is obliged to represent pursuant to 2504 of this title.

Last Updated: Tuesday, 05-Jan-2010 11:09:58 EST
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