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PR 15-24 Access/Rhode Island v. West Warwick School Department - Violation found

Access/Rhode Island hired a third-party named MuckRock from Boston, Massachusetts to conduct an Access to Public Records Act ("APRA") survey regarding various state and local government APRA compliance within Rhode Island. After considering the facts and applicable case law, this Department concluded that since the APRA requests and inquiries were all made by MuckRock, and provided no indication that any APRA request or inquiry was made by or on behalf of Access/Rhode Island, Access/Rhode Island lacked legal standing to file the instant complaint or a lawsuit. See e.g. Fieger v. Federal Election Commission, 690 F.Supp.2d 644 (E.D. Mich. 2010). Nonetheless, after considering numerous factors, this Department concluded that it would review all the Access/Rhode Island APRA complaints pursuant to the Attorney General's independent statutory authority to advance the public interest. See R.I. Gen. Laws 38-2-8(d). In doing so, this Department determined that the School Department failed to submit a timely APRA certification pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws 38-2-3.16, although the evidence suggested that a School Department employee received APRA training in January 2014, yet failed to submit the appropriate form to this Department; and the School Department also violated the APRA when it failed to maintain and post APRA procedures on its website, although the evidence revealed that at the time of the MuckRock APRA requests, the School Department's website was under construction. All of these violations were remedied prior to the filing of the December 2014 APRA complaint. The School Department also violated the APRA on three (3) occasions by failing to respond to MuckRock's APRA requests in a timely manner and this Department directed the School Department to provide a supplemental response concerning these untimely responses to determine whether such a violation was willful and knowing, or reckless, which would subject the School Department to civil fines.

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