Attorney Fees Are Properly Granted Where School District Improperly Withholds Documents


In Garcia v. Bellflower Unified School District the California Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District decided an interesting attorney fee claim arising under the California Public Records Act (“the Act”).

A former teacher was employed at the Bellflower School District (the “District”). She sued the District, alleging she was exposed to mold and was injured, during her teaching tenure. Her attorney issued a document request under the Act to the District.

The District refused to comply with the document request. The teacher moved to compel the District to produce the requested documents. Although the court found that certain requests were not relevant or probative, the court concluded that the District was obligated to produce other, numerous categories of documents. After substantially prevailing in the document battle, the teacher moved for $9,788 in attorney fees. The trial court granted that request and the District appealed.

The court of appeal noted that the Act allows members of the public to inspect a local public agency’s records by filing a petition. If the trial court finds the agency is not justified in withholding a record, the court must order its disclosure. If the person who filed the petition prevails, an attorney fees award may be proper. Because the trial court ordered the District to produce certain documents related to mold, the teacher was the prevailing party and was entitled to an award of reasonable attorney fees.