Griffis v. Pinal County, et al – 8/4/2006

August 28, 2006

Arizona Court of Appeals Division Two Rules That a Government Employees’ Personal E-mails Are Not Presumptively Open to Public Inspection Under Arizona’s Public Records Law.

Pursuant to Arizona’s Public Records Law, A.R.S. § 39-121, Phoenix Newspapers, Inc. requested that Pinal County provide it with all of the County Manager Griffis’ e-mail messages for a specified period. Griffis sought to block release of e-mail records of a personal nature. The trial court found that as a matter of law everything on a county computer was presumed to be a public record and that a party objecting to disclosure must establish some expectation of privacy outweighing the public’s right know. The trial court ruled that Griffis did not overcome the presumption of public access and ordered disclosure of all e-mails. This appeal followed.

The court found that Griffis’ personal e-mails did not fall into any of three alternative definitions of “public records” found in Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community v. Rogers, 168 Ariz. 531, 815 P.2d 900 (1991). The court further found that the public has no right of access to a public officer’s personal e-mails when they are not reasonably necessary to provide knowledge of the activities the officer undertook in furtherance of his duties. The court noted that Griffis acknowledged the government employer’s right to review and determine what e-mails are related to public business and are responsive to a public records request. Thus, the court affirmed the trial court’s order to the extent that it required disclosure of one e-mail addressing public business and reversed the remainder of the opinion.
Judge Pelander authored the opinion; Judges Brammer and Eckerstrom concurred