Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin today announced that the Office of Attorney General has reached a settlement agreement with the Manville Fire Department for violations of the Access to Public Records Act (APRA) for failing to provide a timely response to an APRA request. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the Manville Fire Department will pay $1,500. The lawsuit was the result of a complaint filed with the Office of Attorney General on behalf of Daniel DesMarais in 2014.
Under the APRA, a public body has 10 business days to respond to a request for documents (R.I. Gen. Laws § 38-2-7). If the public body denies the request, a written response detailing the specific reasons for the denial shall be sent within those 10 business days to the person or entity making the request (R.I. Gen. Laws § 38-2-7(a)). If no response is sent within 10 business days, the lack of response will be deemed a denial (R.I. Gen. Laws § 38-2-7(b)). If, for good cause, the public body cannot comply with a records request within 10 business days, then the public body may extend the time period an additional 20 business days, for a total of 30 business days (R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 38-2-7(a) and 38-2-3(e)).
The Office of Attorney General determined the Fire Department violated the APRA in a finding issued on February 20, 2015 (DesMarais v. Manville Fire Department PR 15-08) and allowed the Fire Department the opportunity to address whether the untimely response was knowing and willful, or reckless. By supplemental finding dated April 13, 2015, the Office of Attorney General concluded that the violation was willful and knowing (DesMarais v. Manville Fire Department PR 15-08B) and subsequently filed a lawsuit in Rhode Island Superior Court.
"Of all the requirements of APRA, the easiest to comply with is the mere act of responding to a request for documents. Yet, time and time again, public bodies fail to respond in a timely manner which often results in adverse findings, lawsuits and settlement checks. This settlement should serve as a reminder to all public bodies that this Office will continue to enforce the APRA," said Attorney General Peter Kilmartin.