Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury
Office of Open Records Counsel

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Frequently Asked Questions

Revised 03/26/2014


  1. In Tennessee, a request to inspect or receive copies of public records is called a “public records request” or an “open records request.” A number of other states and the federal government call a request for public records a “FOIA” or “Freedom of Information Act” request.


  2. Public Records are “all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, photographs, microfilms, electronic data processing files and output, films, sound recordings, or other material, regardless of physical form or characteristics made or received pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by any governmental agency.” Tenn. Code Ann. Section 10-7-503(a)(1).


  3. The Tennessee Public Records Act provides that any citizen of Tennessee has the right to personally inspect a public record unless there is a state law that restricts or prohibits inspection. Tenn. Code Ann. Section 10-7- 503(a)(2)(A). While only citizens of Tennessee have the right to inspect and receive copies of public records, governmental entities are not prohibited from making records accessible to individuals who are not citizens of Tennessee. In Tennessee, a request to inspect or receive copies of public records is called a “public records request” or an “open records request.” A number of other states and the federal government call a request for public records a “FOIA” or “Freedom of Information Act” request.


  4. No. The Office of Open Records Counsel is not a clearinghouse for public records requests. If a citizen has questions regarding the Tennessee Public Records Act (“TPRA”) prior to making a request, the Office will advise the citizen of his/her rights under the TPRA. Once a citizen makes a public records request from a local governmental entity and a dispute arises, the Office will serve as a mediator between the citizen and local government official in an effort to resolve the dispute. .


  5. No. The Office of Open Records Counsel only mediates public records disputes between local governmental entities and citizens.


  6. No. The exceptions are found throughout the Tennessee Code Annotated as well as in common law, court rules, and federal law.


  7. Yes. Tenn. Code Ann. Section 10-7-503(a)(7)(A) allows a records custodian to require any citizen making a request to inspect or receive copies of public records to present government issued photo identification, which includes the citizen's address. If the citizen does not possess government issued photo identification that includes an address, the records custodian may accept other forms of identification.


  8. Generally, the answer is No; however there are a limited number of exceptions. Tenn. Code Ann. Section 10-7-503(a)(7)(A) clearly prohibits a records custodian from assessing "a charge to view public records” unless the charge is “otherwise required by law."


  9. Generally, the answer is No. Tenn. Code Ann. Section 10-7-503(a)(7)(A) states, that a records custodian may not "require a written request...to view a public record unless otherwise required by law.” Given that a requestor is not required to make a request in person and given that a request for inspection is not required to be made in writing, a governmental entity should accept requests for inspection via telephone, if the requestor does not want to make the request in person or in writing.


  10. Yes. Tenn. Code Ann. Section 10-7-503(a)(7)(A) states that a “a records custodian may require a request for copies to be in writing."


  11. No. If the records are readily available and there is no need to review and redact, then the records should be made available as “promptly” as possible. However, if it is not “practicable” for the records to be made “promptly” available, the records custodian is required to take one (1) of the following three (3) actions within seven (7) business days: make the records available to the requestor; deny the request in writing with the basis of the denial included; or provide the requestor a written explanation of how long it will take to produce the request.


  12. A governmental entity is allowed to charge 15 cents ($0.15) per 8 ½ x11 or 8 ½ x14 black and white copy and 50 cents ($0.50) per 8 ½ x11 or 8 ½ x14 color copy, unless the entity has done a cost analysis that proves that the entity’s cost to produce a copy exceeds the threshold amount set out above.


  13. Yes. Tenn. Code Ann. Section 10-7-503(a)(7)(C) allows a records custodian to charge a requestor the “hourly wage of the employee(s) reasonably necessary to produce the requested information” after one (1) hour of work has been done by the custodian in producing the requested material.


  14. No. A local police/sheriff’s department is not permitted to charge a flat fee for an accident or incident report. The department is permitted to charge 15 cents ($0.15) per 8 ½ x11 or 8 ½ x14 page, unless a cost analysis has been done to prove that the department’s per page cost exceeds 15 cents ($0.15).


  15. Both citizens of Tennessee and local government officials can request an informal advisory opinion.


  16. No, as long as the request is sufficiently detailed for the records custodian to know what records are being requested, the request does not have to be made in person.


  17. No, if a requestor requests that the records be mailed to him/her, the records custodian is required to mail the records after the requestor pays the cost of delivering the records.


  18. No. In situations where the requestor only requests copies of a portion of the records inspected, he/she can only be charged a labor fee that is proportional to the time that it took to produce the records for which copies are being requested.


  19. No. There is nothing in the Tennessee Public Records Act that gives a citizen the right to use his/her own copying equipment (e.g. cell phone, camera, hand held scanner, laptop, etc.) to make copies. However, if a governmental entity wants to allow a requestor to do so, the governmental entity has the discretion to do so. There is nothing in the Tennessee Public Records Act that prohibits a governmental entity from allowing a person to use his/her own copying equipment. If a governmental entity is going to allow a requestor to use his/her own copying equipment, that should be reflected in the entity’s rule or policy.



  20. Yes, as long as the purpose of having the staff member sit with the requestor is not to intimidate the requestor in any way. However, the governmental entity cannot access the requestor a fee for the time that the staff member sits with the requestor.


  21. Generally no, but there are a limited number of situations when it is permissible for the records custodian to ask why the records are being requested.


  22. No. There is no requirement in the Tennessee Public Records Act that a records custodian provide a requestor with an explanation related to the records that are inspected or copied. However, a records custodian may do so as a courtesy.


  23. No, unless the governmental entity’s policy requires that a request be made on the form.


  24. The case law in Tennessee only addresses the fact that a governmental entity is required to accept requests for copies in person or through the mail. However, if the governmental entity decides to accept requests for copies via email or text, the law does not prohibit the entity from doing so. If a governmental entity is going to limit the methods in which it accepts requests for copies, that information should be reflected in the entity’s rule or policy.