Roldan v. City of Hallandale Beach (4th DCA 2023)
Michael Roldan made a public records request to the City of Hallandale Beach in May 2019. The City did not respond to his request for five months, so he filed a lawsuit to enforce his request. The City then produced the requested records, but Roldan continued with his lawsuit, arguing that the City’s delay in producing the records violated the Florida Public Records Act.
The trial court found that the City’s delay was unlawful, but it also found that Roldan’s written public records request to the City’s records custodian was not sufficient to serve as the “written notice identifying the public record request” required for entitlement to attorney’s fees under section 119.12(1)(b), Florida Statutes (2019). The trial court therefore entered final judgment in the City’s favor.
Roldan appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in finding that his written public records request was not sufficient to serve as the required “written notice.” The Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s finding on this point, but it vacated the final judgment and remanded the case for entry of a new final judgment which indicates the City’s violation of the Public Records Act.
The Fourth District held that section 119.12(1)(b) requires a complainant to provide a separate “written notice identifying the public record request” before the plaintiff may recover attorney’s fees in an enforcement action. The court reasoned that the purpose of the attorney’s fees provision is to encourage public agencies to voluntarily comply with the requirements of the Public Records Act, and that this purpose would be undermined if a complainant could recover attorney’s fees simply by making a public records request and then filing a lawsuit if the agency does not respond immediately.
However, the Fourth District also held that the City’s unjustified delay in producing the requested public records violated the Public Records Act. The court reasoned that the Public Records Act requires public agencies to respond to public records requests in a timely manner, and that the City’s delay of five months was not reasonable.
The Fourth District therefore vacated the final judgment and remanded the case for entry of a new final judgment which indicates the City’s violation of the Public Records Act. However, Roland was prevented from recovering attorneys fees because the 5 day notice requirement was not met.
If your records request is being ignored, attorney Nicholas Russo is ready to assist you. Call (561) 684-5787.