Public Information Act Requests

What is the Public Information Act?

Files on a shelfEnacted in 1970, Maryland's Public Information Act (PIA), grants the public a broad right of access to public records while protecting legitimate governmental interests and the privacy rights of individual citizens.

The PIA covers public agencies and officials in Maryland and includes all branches of state government (legislative, judicial, and executive). The PIA is similar in purpose to the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

What is a Public Record?

A public record is defined as the original or copy of any documentary material in any form, to include written materials, books, photographs, photocopies, films, microfilms, records, tapes, computerized records, maps and drawings created or received by the Department in connection with the transaction of public business.

Who can submit a PIA request?

Anyone – citizens, corporations, associations, public interest groups, private individuals, universities and members of the media — can submit PIA requests.

 

What DNR records are accessible?

The PIA provides for access to most Department records. Certain records are privileged by law or exempt from disclosure and must be withheld. Examples include, but are not limited to, records containing personal contact information, social security numbers, medical records, personnel records, financial information, attorney-client advice and attorney work product.

Other records may be withheld. Examples include, but are not limited to, investigatory records and inter- and intra-agency memoranda and letters. If a requester is denied access to any DNR records, he or she will be notified as to the specific statutory provisions for each exemption and procedures for challenging the denial(s).

The requester also will be notified if files have been lost or destroyed in accordance with DNR filing and retention schedules.

What information is necessary to request records?

Identification of the record(s) desired is the responsibility of the requester. To provide the requester with the best possible service, the Department asks that the requester provide specific information concerning the record(s) of interest, such as project names, dates, type of documents etc.

 

Can DNR write, generate or create reports and lists under the Public Information Act? ?

The information that is covered under the PIA is only that information in existence at the time of the request. Requests to write, generate or create reports or lists, however, are not covered under the PIA but are instead considered a special service. If the Department determines that a PIA request is actually a special service request, the requester will be notified. Complying with requests for special services is at the discretion of the Department. Neither the PIA nor its fee structure covers these kinds of services. The Department will typically provide special services only after agreement has been obtained in writing from the requester to pay for the special services.

 

How long will it take to get a response to my request? ?

The law provides for 30 days to complete the request, however the agency makes every effort to respond as quickly as possible within any set of parameters, such as availability of information, availability of staff needed to process requests, number of requests in process at any given time, etc.

 

Are there fees related to the Public Information Act? ?

Fees may not be used to discourage requesters, and to this end, PIA fees are limited to standard charges for direct document search, review, and duplication. Also, the PIA specifies that requesters receive the first two hours of search and preparation time without charge.

The term "direct costs" means those expenditures the Department actually makes in searching for, reviewing, and duplicating documents to respond to a PIA request. Direct costs include, for example, the costs of the employees performing the work and the costs of operating duplicating machinery. Not included in direct costs are overhead expenses such as costs of space, heating, or lighting the facility in which the records are stored.

The term "search" includes all time spent looking, both manually and electronically, for material that is responsive to a request. Search also includes a line-by-line or page-by-page identification (if necessary) of material in the record to determine if it or portions thereof are responsive to the request. Time spent reviewing documents in order to determine whether a statutory exemption applies is not search time, but preparation time.

The term "duplication" refers to the process of making a copy of a document in response to a PIA request. Such copies can take the form of paper copy, audiovisual, or machine-readable documentation (e.g., magnetic tape or disc), among others. The Department will provide copies in the same format as kept within the Department unless otherwise specified by the requester.

The term "preparation" refers to the process of examining documents located in response to a PIA request to determine whether one or more of the statutory exemptions require withholding. It also includes the processing of documents for disclosure, such as redacting portions which are not available for release.

In order to be as responsive as possible to PIA requests while minimizing unwarranted costs, requesters should indicate the maximum amount of fees they are willing to pay.

The requester must indicate in advance a willingness to pay fees that cover the Department's estimate of costs. A written copy of an estimate of assessable fees will be provided upon request.

The Department will make every effort to accurately estimate the costs associated with the request. However, the Department is not bound by the estimate and may charge fees that exceed the estimate. The requester will be provided with justification for the fees. Generally, advance payment of the fees will be requested.

  • Fee Waivers:
    Requests for a fee waiver or reduction in fees should be submitted in writing to the Department. The Department may grant a fee waiver if the Department determines that a fee waiver is in the best interest of the public. A fee waiver will not be granted if it is primarily in the commercial interest of the requester. Decisions to waive or reduce fees are made on a case-by-case basis. A determination pursuant to §10-621 of the State Government Article on a request for a fee waiver is within the discretion of the Department. State law does not provide a right to a contested hearing or other agency adjudication on this decision.
  • Aggregating Requests::
    Multiple requests from the same or a related entity may be aggregated, at the discretion of the Department, for purposes of conducting the search and/or determining applicable fees where:
    • The Department reasonably believes that a requester (or group of requesters) is attempting to break a request down into a series of requests for the purpose of avoiding the assessment of fees.
    • The Department believes that the combination of multiple requests, either in whole or in part, promotes administrative efficiency in the handling of the requests. For example, where a single database must be searched for multiple locations.
    • However, the Department will not normally aggregate multiple requests in unrelated subjects from one requester. The requester will be informed of the aggregation only if, under the Department's guidelines, the requester is to be informed of the expected costs prior to the execution of the search.
  • Duplication Cost Per Page:
    DNR has established the policy that the first ten copies are free of charge. However, each page after the first 10 are 25 cents each, plus postage (if applicable). Additional charges may be involved if the items covered include storage media, color copies or copies larger than legal size paper.

 

Where can I find a copy of Maryland’s Public Information Act manual?

You can find information at the State Attorney General's Office website. www.oag.state.md.us/Opengov/pia.htm

 

Who do I contact to make a Public Information Act Request or if I have questions?

Please direct all Public Information Act Requests or questions in writing via email to:

Eugene F. Deems, Jr.
Maryland Public Information Act Request Manager
Office of Communications
580 Taylor Avenue, D4
Annapolis, MD 21401
410-260-8014
gene.deems@maryland.gov