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Tennessee Public Records Act FAQs

No. The Office of Open Records Counsel is not a clearinghouse for public records requests and does not request records on behalf of others. The office answers questions and provides information about the Tennessee Public Records Act and the Tennessee Open Meetings Act and assists with the resolution of disputes concerning ongoing public record requests.  

There is not a central repository for public records in Tennessee.  A public record request should be submitted to the governmental entity (or entities) believed to be the records custodian. The Office of Open Records Counsel is not a clearinghouse for public records.

All governmental entities subject to the Tennessee Public Records Act are required to have a public records policy that sets forth the process for requesting access to public records, the process for responding to requests, a statement of any fees charged for copies of public records, and the name and title of the entity’s Public Record Request Coordinator (PRRC).

The PRRC for any governmental entity should be familiar with this policy and should be able to assist with requests to access public records from that governmental entity. Depending on the governmental entity’s public records policy and the nature of the request, you may be required to submit the request in writing or on a specific form, and the governmental entity may require presentation of government-issued identification. 

The Tennessee Public Records Act grants Tennessee citizens the right to access state, county and municipal public records. “Public Records” are defined as “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 entity.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-503(a)(1)(A)(i).

The Tennessee Public Records Act requires that requests for public records must be sufficiently detailed to enable a governmental entity to identify the specific records for inspection or copying. Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-503(a)(4). Governmental entities are not required to sort through files and compile information to respond to a records request. Accordingly, a request may be denied if it does not sufficiently identify specific records or broadly requires a records custodian to sort through files or compile information.

No. The Tennessee Public Records Act provides that public records are open for inspection to any citizen of Tennessee except as otherwise provided by law. Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-503(a)(2)(A). State law, common law, court rules, and federal law prohibit the disclosure of certain public records.

Only citizens of Tennessee have the right to inspect and receive copies of public records under the Tennessee Public Records Act. Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-503(a)(2)(A). However, governmental entities may make records accessible to individuals who are not citizens of Tennessee.

Yes. A governmental entity may require an individual requesting access to public records to present a government-issued photo identification that includes an address. Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-503(a)(7)(A)(vi). If an individual does not possess a government-issued photo identification that includes an address, a governmental entity may accept other forms of identification the governmental entity deems acceptable. Such alternative forms of acceptable identification should be set forth in the governmental entity’s public records policy.  

Requests to inspect public records of a governmental entity may be submitted in person or by telephone, fax, mail or email, if the governmental entity uses such means of communication to transact official business. Requests may also be submitted online if the governmental entity maintains an internet portal used for accepting public record requests.

A governmental entity cannot require that a request to only inspect records be submitted in writing. Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-503(a)(7)(A)(i). However, if a request is for both the inspection and copying of public records, the governmental entity may require the request to be in writing.  Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-503(a)(7)(A)(ii).

A governmental entity may require a request for copies of public records to be submitted in writing or on a particular form. Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-503(a)(7)(A)(ii). If the entity imposes such a requirement, requests for copies may be submitted in person, by mail, or by email, if the governmental entity uses such means of communication to transact official business. Requests may also be submitted online if the governmental entity maintains an internet portal used for accepting public record requests. Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-503(a)(7)(A)(iv).

If a governmental entity does not require a request for copies of public records to be in writing, the request may be submitted in the same manner as requests to inspect public records. 

The Tennessee Public Records Act prohibits a records custodian from assessing a charge to inspect public records unless the charge is otherwise required by law. Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-503(a)(7)(A)(i). However, if an individual seeks copies of records after inspection, they may be charged for copying costs and labor associated with providing copies of only those particular records.

A governmental entity may charge the reasonable costs incurred in producing copies of public records and is required to provide an estimate of the reasonable costs. Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-503(a)(7)(C). The reasonable costs that may be charged for copies of public records are set forth in the Schedule of Reasonable Charges (“the Schedule”) promulgated by the Office of Open Records Counsel.

The Schedule provides that a governmental entity may charge 15 cents ($0.15) per 8 ½ x 11 or 8 ½ x 14 black and white copy and 50 cents ($0.50) per 8 ½ x 11 or 8 ½ x 14 color copy, unless the entity’s cost to produce a copy exceeds the threshold amount set out above.

A governmental entity may also charge for the labor involved in producing copies of records. The Schedule generally 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.

If charges for copies are imposed in accordance with the Schedule, the charges are presumed reasonable. If you believe an estimate of reasonable costs or other costs imposed are unreasonable, please contact our office.

If a request is originally for copies, but the requestor later decides he or she would only like to inspect the records, a records custodian cannot charge costs related to the inspection under Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-503(a)(7)(A)(i). However, if a requestor previously agreed to pay for copies and the governmental entity produced copies out of reliance on the agreement, a governmental entity may be entitled to seek equitable relief. Additionally, if a requestor was provided an estimate of costs and agreed to pay for copies, the governmental entity is not required to comply with additional public record requests from that requestor until he or she pays for the copies originally requested.

A governmental entity may not charge for the costs associated with providing copies of public records until an estimate of reasonable charges is provided to the requestor. If a governmental entity fails to provide an estimate of costs, be sure to advise the entity and request the estimate.  If you have difficulty obtaining an estimate of costs from a governmental entity, please contact our office.

If a requestor believes the estimate of costs is unreasonable, he or she should contact the governmental entity to ask about the basis of the costs. A requestor may also contact our office for assistance.

The imposition of unreasonable or unfounded costs can constitute a denial of access to records for which a requestor may file a petition for access to the records in the appropriate circuit or chancery court pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-505. 

As with requests to inspect physical public records, a governmental entity may not assess a charge associated with inspecting electronic records. If copies of electronic records are requested, a governmental entity may only assess a per-page charge for paper copies that must be produced in responding to the request, such as printing the records for redaction. A governmental entity may also assess labor charges associated with the labor required to produce copies of the requested electronic records and its out-of-pocket costs for flash drives or other storage devices on which electronic copies are provided.  

If records are readily available, they should be provided promptly. However, if it is not practicable for the records to be made promptly available, the records custodian is required to take one of the following actions within seven (7) business days: make the records available to the requestor; deny the request in writing, providing the basis of the denial; or provide the requestor a written explanation of the time reasonably necessary to produce the records.  Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-503(1)(2)(B).

No. An individual cannot be required to make a request in person nor can they be required to retrieve records in person. If an individual requests that records be mailed to him or her, the governmental entity is required to mail the records after receiving payment for the cost of delivering the public records.

No. The Tennessee Public Records Act does not grant a citizen the right to use personal copying equipment (e.g. cell phone, camera, hand-held scanner, laptop, etc.) to make copies. Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-506. However, a governmental entity may allow an individual to do so. Whether a governmental entity allows a requestor to use personal copying equipment should be reflected in the governmental entity’s public records policy.

Yes, as long as the purpose of having the staff member sit with the requestor is not to intimidate the requestor. A governmental entity cannot assess a fee for the time that the staff member sits with the requestor.

Generally, no. The Tennessee Public Records Act does not distinguish between public record requests based upon the intended use of the records. In rare circumstances, it is permissible for a records custodian to ask why records are being requested, as he or she may need the information to determine if certain records can be disclosed.

No. The Tennessee Public Records Act does not require that a records custodian provide a requestor with an explanation or information related to requested public records. However, a records custodian may do so as a courtesy.

Yes. If a person makes two (2) or more requests to inspect public records within a six-month period and, for each request, the person fails to view the public record within fifteen (15) business days of receiving notification that the record is available for inspection, the governmental entity is not required to comply with any public records request from the person for a period of six (6) months from the date of the second request to view the public record, unless the governmental entity determines failure to view the public record was for good cause. Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-503(a)(7)(A)(vii)(a).

Also, if a person makes a request for copies of a public record and, after copies have been produced, the person fails to pay the governmental entity the cost for producing such copies, the governmental entity is not required to comply with any public records request from the person until the person pays for such copies; provided, that the person was provided with an estimate of costs for producing the copies prior to producing the copies and the person agreed to pay the estimated cost for such copies. Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-503(a)(7)(A)(vii)(b).