Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin today announced that the Office of Attorney General and The Compass School entered into a joint settlement agreement in which the school agreed to pay a $1,000 fine for violating the state's Access to Public Records Act (APRA).
The Office of Attorney General filed a civil lawsuit in Rhode Island Superior Court against the Compass School in November alleging the school knowingly and willfully or recklessly violated APRA when it failed to respond to an APRA request within the timeframe dictated by the statute.
On January 13, 2015, Mr. Joe Smith made an APRA request to the Compass School seeking six categories of documents. On January 21, 2015, the Compass School acknowledged receipt of the APRA request and indicated that "the information is being gathered." On January 22, 2015 and again on February 5, 2015, the School provided Mr. Smith with additional documents pursuant to his APRA request, yet did not respond to other aspects of his APRA request and failed to comply with the statute's deadlines to provide the requested documents.
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).
Mr. Smith filed a complaint with the Office of Attorney General, and after an investigation, the Office of Attorney General issued a finding on May 5, 2016 finding the Compass School in violation of the APRA. Mr. Smith received all the requested documents only after he filed his complaint with the Office of Attorney General, well after the 30 business day extension.
By supplemental finding dated November 2, 2016, the Office of Attorney General concluded that the APRA violation was willful and knowing or reckless and notified the Compass School of the intent to file a civil lawsuit in Rhode Island Superior Court.