McKee v. Peoria Unified School District (12/2/2014)

January 5, 2015

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One holds that the promptness of a response to a public records request must be made in the context of the entire request rather than individual documents listed in the request.

Facing employment termination proceedings after the drowning death of a student under his supervision, Timothy McKee filed a public records request with Peoria Unified School District seeking documents related to the drowning incident and the subsequent investigation.  Unsatisfied with the timeliness of the production of documents, McKee filed suit.  The trial court ruled that the District was not sufficiently prompt in responding to the public records request.  Having determined that McKee substantially prevailed in his suit, the trial court awarded McKee $67,500 in attorneys’ fees pursuant to A.R.S. § 39-121.02(B).  The District timely appealed.

The Court of Appeals reversed and vacated the award of attorneys’ fees.  The promptness requirement for responses to public records requests applies to an entire request.  McKee had requested six categories of documents, and although some categories were readily available, the District had no obligation to produce the readily available documents while continuing to gather documents for the remainder of the request.  The District began a rolling production of documents 16 business days after receiving the request, and completed the disclosure within 24 business days.  This time frame satisfies the promptness requirement.

The Court of Appeals also held that the trial court erred in treating a handwritten list of student contact information as a District document.  The list, passed among students who witnessed the drowning incident and containing the contact information of the witnesses, was created as part of the police investigation.  In fact, McKee knew that the police had a copy of the log before requesting it from the District.  Because the log was a police document, the District was not the custodian and therefore had no obligation to produce a copy in response to a public records request.

Judge Cattani authored the opinion; Presiding Judge Thompson and Judge Kessler concurred.