All documents made or received by city/town officials and employees related to city/town business are subject to the Tennessee Public Records Act (hereinafter "TPRA"). Records custodians must, within seven business days of receiving a public records request, either produce the requested records, deny the request in writing with the legal basis for the denial included or provide an estimated time frame for production of the requested records. Failure to do so constitutes a denial of the request and gives the requestor the right to file a public records lawsuit. T.C.A. § 10-7-503. Additionally, if copies are requested, a records custodian should provide the requestor with an estimate of the copies and labor as soon as possible.
If a citizen of Tennessee is denied access to requested records, the individual may petition a chancery or circuit court for copies or inspection of the requested records. The burden of proof is on the city/town officials or employees, who must justify the denial by a preponderance of evidence. State law instructs courts hearing these cases to construe the TPRA as broadly as possible to give citizens of Tennessee "… the fullest possible public access to public records". T.C.A. § 10-7-505 (d). If a court determines that a city/town has violated the TPRA, the city/town may be assessed costs. Additionally, if a court determines that the city/town employee or official "willfully refused" access to the requested records, the city/town can also be assessed attorney's fees. When determining whether a city/town willfully violated the TPRA, the court may consider guidance provided to the city/town by the Office of Open Records Counsel, which is discussed below. T.C.A. § 10-7-505(g). An official required to provide access to requested records will not be civilly or criminally liable for providing access. T.C.A. § 10-7-505(f).