Legal Alerts Jun 04, 2020

Jurisdiction Over CPRA Cases Not Limited to Courts in the County Where Records are Situated

A California Appellate Court Draws a Distinction between the Power of a Court to Rule —“Jurisdiction”— and the Proper Place for a CPRA Suit —“Venue”

Any trial court in the state may have jurisdiction over a California Public Records Act lawsuit, even though venue may not be proper under the CPRA, the Second District Court of Appeal held in an opinion issued this week.
The court considered Government Code section 6259, which permits CPRA requesters to challenge a local agency’s redactions or withholdings of public records in “the superior court of the county where the records or some part thereof are situated.” The court determined that this section of the CPRA regulates where the case should be heard (venue) and not whether the court has the authority to decide the case (jurisdiction).
In California Gun Rights Foundation v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County, the California Gun Rights Foundation requested records from California’s Department of Justice and the California Attorney General (collectively, the State). The opinion did not mention the nature of the request. The State denied or “reasonably delayed” a response to the Foundation’s request and the Foundation sued in Los Angeles Superior Court. The State filed a motion to transfer the action to the Sacramento Superior Court, where the records and witnesses were situated.
The opinion did not analyze whether the electronic nature of the requested records may affect venue.
The appellate court held that Los Angeles County had subject-matter jurisdiction over the case. The court held that section 6259’s reference to “the superior court of the county where the records or some part thereof are situated” relates to venue and not jurisdiction.
This distinction is important for several reasons. First, a court needs subject-matter jurisdiction to make preliminary orders, such as discovery orders regarding the existence and location of records. Second,  jurisdiction gives the court authority to transfer a CPRA action to a different  county.
However, in this case, the State may be required to litigate the case in Los Angeles because of a code section unique to the California Attorney General. Code of Civil Procedure section 401 permits plaintiffs to sue the State or its agencies in any city and county where the Attorney General has an office. If section 6259 was a jurisdictional provision, then the case should have been brought in Sacramento, where the records were held. However, because the court found that section 6259 governed only venue and the Attorney General may be sued in a city  or county where  he or she has an office, the case could remain in Los Angeles.
BB&K’s ARC: Advanced Records Center is a rapid response team trained in electronic records that assists local agencies with these types of request. For more information about this decision or how it may impact your agency, please contact the authors of this Legal Alert in BB&K’s ARC: Advanced Records Center or your BB&K attorney.
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Disclaimer: BB&K Legal Alerts are not intended as legal advice. Additional facts, facts specific to your situation or future developments may affect subjects contained herein. Seek the advice of an attorney before acting or relying upon any information herein. 

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