Persons interested in obtaining public records of the Lake Charles Harbor and Terminal District should first read the information below and follow the procedures outlined below.
The Louisiana Public Records Act is codified at La. R.S. 44:1 et seq. The Public Records Act is meant to ensure that public documents are preserved and available to the public for examination. It was enacted in part in an effort to give effect to Article XII, Section 3 of the Louisiana Constitution, which states that, “no person shall be denied the right to observe the deliberations of public bodies and examine public documents, except in cases established by law.” This summary is meant to provide the public with information to assist in obtaining public records and is intended to provide an overview of the Public Records Law. Interested persons should refer to the above cited statues for more complete information. The following is meant only to be a summary of the law and not a complete recitation thereof.
- 1. What are public records?
Public Records are defined in La. R.S. 44:1(A)(2)(a) to comprise all of the following including copies, duplicates, photographs (including microfilm), or other reproductions:
– Letters and letter books
– Documentary materials (regardless of physical form or characteristics), including information contained in electronic data processing equipment, having been used, being in use, or prepared, possessed, or retained for use in the conduct, transaction, or performance of any business, transaction, work, duty, or function which was conducted, transacted, or performed by or under the authority of the constitution or laws of this state, or by or under the authority of any ordinance, regulation, mandate, or order of any public body or concerning the receipt or payment of any money received or paid by or under the authority of the constitution or the laws of this state.
Sensitive Security Information (“SSI”) does not qualify as a public record. See 49 C.F.R. 15.15(a).
- 2. Who can request public records?
Except as otherwise provided for by law, any person of the age of majority (age 18) may inspect, copy or reproduce any public record and any person may obtain a copy or reproduction of any public record. La. R.S. 44:31(B)(1).
- 3. Must a purpose be stated to request a public record?
Records can be requested for any reason. The Louisiana Public Records Act states that the Custodian of Records “shall make no inquiry of any person who applies for a public record, except an inquiry as to the age and identification of the person.” La. R.S. 44:32.
- 4. What/who is a custodian?
The term “custodian” is defined in La. R.S 44:1(A)(3) as “the public official or head of any public body having custody or control of a public record, or a representative specifically authorized by him to respond to requests to inspect any such public records.” For the Lake Charles Harbor and Terminal District (also referred to as “Port of Lake Charles”), the custodian shall be the Office of the General Counsel, P. O. Box 3753, Lake Charles, LA 70602.
- 5. What are the duties of a custodian with respect to public records?
La. R.S. 44:32(A) states that “the custodian shall present any public record to any person of the age of majority who so requests.” It further requires that the custodian “make no inquiry of any person who applies for a public record, except an inquiry as to the age and identification of the person.” Id. Note that the statute does permit a custodian to “require the person to sign a register” but directs the custodian “not [to] review, examine or scrutinize any copy, photograph, or memoranda in the possession of any such person.” Id. The custodian is further directed to extend to the requesting party “all reasonable comfort and facility for the full exercise of the right granted by this Chapter.” Id.
- 6. How long does a public entity have to determine if records are subject to production?
La. R.S. 44:32 dictates that the custodian must respond to a request for records within three (3) business days. This does not necessarily mean that the records requested must actually be produced before the expiration of the three-day period. Rather, all that is required is that the custodian responds in some fashion, even if s/he is still engaged in determining which, if any of the requested records should be withheld.
- 7. When should records be made available for review?
“If the public record applied for is immediately available, because of its not being in active use at the time of the application, the public record shall be immediately presented to the authorized person applying for it. If the public record applied for is not immediately available, because of its being in active use at the time of the application, the custodian shall promptly certify this in writing to the applicant, and in his certificate shall fix a day and hour within three days, exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays, and legal public holidays, for the exercise of the right granted by this Chapter.” La. R.S. 44:33(B)(1).
All public records are available for inspection on non-holiday work days during normal business hours (8:00 am to noon and 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm) at the District’s administrative offices.
- 8. What accommodations should be granted to a person requesting access to public records?
The Custodian of Records should extend to a person requesting records “all reasonable comfort and facility for the full exercise of the right granted by this Chapter” (provided that nothing in the act should prevent the custodian from maintaining such vigilance as is required to prevent alteration of any record while it is being examined). La. R.S. 44:32. “The examination of records under the authority of this Section must be conducted during regular office or working hours, unless the custodian has authorized examination of records at a different time. In this event the persons designated to represent the custodian during such examination shall be entitled to reasonable compensation to be paid to them by the public body having custody of such record, out of funds provided in advance by the person examining such record in other than regular office or working hours.” Id.
- 9. Can a fee be charged to copy public records?
“The custodian may establish and collect reasonable fees for making copies of public records. Copies of records may be furnished without charge or at a reduced charge to indigent citizens of this state.” La. R.S. 44:32(C)(1)(a). “For all public records of state agencies, it shall be the duty of the custodian of such records to provide copies to persons so requesting. Fees for such copies shall be charged according to the uniform fee schedule adopted by the commissioner of administration, as provided by La. R.S. 39:241.” La. R.S. 44:32(C)(2). Attached is the fee schedule adopted by the Port of Lake Charles and which will be applied to all request for copies of public records.
- 10. Can the requestor of documents specify a format for document production?
A person requesting large volumes of records may request that the documents be provide in electronic format. The Port of Lake Charles reserves the right to select the best format available to it at the time of the request to produce such records.
- 11. What documents are exempt from classification as public records under the Public Records Law? Is there an exception regarding pending litigation?
Unless La. R.S. 44:1, et seq. expressly exempts a record, or unless there is a recognized constitutional right (such as the right to privacy found under Art I, Section 5, of the Louisiana Constitution) that requires exclusion of a record, or it is SSI, all public records are generally subject to inspection and copying.
Regarding pending litigation specifically, La. R.S. 44:4.1(C) states: “The provisions of this Chapter shall not apply to any writings, records, or other accounts that reflect the mental impressions, conclusions, opinions, or theories of an attorney or an expert, obtained or prepared in anticipation of litigation or in preparation for trial.”
RELATING TO PUBLIC RECORDS REQUESTS
In accordance with applicable law, the following fees are established by the Lake Charles Harbor and Terminal District for making copies of public records of the District.
- Subject to sub-paragraph c. below, charges for paper copies of any public record shall be thirty (30¢) cents per page for paper copies up to 8½” x 14” that can be assembled and reproduced within a 60 minute period.
- A two-sided copy shall be considered two pages.
- Charges for paper copies of public records requiring larger than 8½” x 14″ or requiring the District to expend greater than 60 minutes in accumulating and duplicating the records, the District shall charge its actual cost for duplicating these records. Actual cost shall include the labor cost involved in accumulating and duplicating the records requested.
- Charges for copies of public records printed from information stored on computer files shall be at the same rate specified above.
- Copies of electronically recorded tape recordings shall be $8.00 per tape.
- Copies of digitized records supplied on CD ROMs shall be $10.00 per disc.
- Charges for digitized or electronic copies of public records which require considerable time in retrieving shall be at the actual cost of duplicating the same.
 Note that this is demonstrative and not an exclusive list.