Judge Denies SDCWA’s Petition to Find LADWP in Violation of
|LOS ANGELES —After 18 months of litigation, Judge James C. Chalfant of the Los Angeles Superior Court has found that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) made a good faith effort to comply with a California Public Records Act (CPRA) request submitted by San Diego County Water Authority (SDCWA). The Court then proceeded to impose limits, specifically stating that it was going to treat the matter “as a discovery dispute.” The SDCWA had demanded that the LADWP search for vaguely described and overly broad categories of records relating to water rates.
In its ruling on May 22, 2013, the Court agreed with LADWP’s request for judicial intervention, stating that SDCWA’s petition was “denied,” and only “granted in limited part,” by allowing a modified search for a few limited documents. The court ordered SDCWA to identify modified search terms that would produce reasonable results, unlike its original vague and broad request. LADWP agreed to conduct those searches and produce all responsive, non-privileged documents in accordance with the California Public Records Act.
To respond to SDCWA’s public records act request, in the last 18 months, LADWP has searched a universe of approximately 150 million emails, more than two million files of documents, and identified more than 75 million pages of potentially responsive documents, at a cost to its customers of more than $250,000. During the hearing, Judge Chalfant repeatedly stated that he found that LADWP had made a “good faith” effort.
The court specifically stated that, “Although the [SDCWA’s] CPRA request purports to seek disclosure of only nine categories of records, the categories are both unduly vague and overbroad.” The court described the request as “objectionable,” and stated that a critical problem with the request was SDCWA’s repeated use of the verb “relating.” The court stated that the word “relating” is “. . . inherently vague; many of the documents possessed by [LADWP] could somehow relate to the documents which the [SDCWA] actually wants . . . Given these facts, [SDCWA] should not be surprised or disappointed that it has taken [LADWP] so long to produce responsive public records, or that non-responsive records have been produced. The request simply does not reasonably describe the records it seeks, either through a clear description of content or the setting forth the criteria which would enable [LADWP] to search for records. The Water Authority does not even suggest what documents are missing . . . The court agrees that [LADWP’s} burden will be undue for continued efforts to produce documents responsive to the request as worded.”
SDCWA filed its CPRA request as a tactic in ongoing litigation it filed against the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, in which LADWP is also a defendant. Through that lawsuit, SDCWA is attempting to shift the costs of an agreement it entered into with MWD to other Southern California water utilities, including approximately $800 million to LADWP and its customers. LADWP has strongly opposed both lawsuits
LADWP takes its obligations under the CPRA very seriously and made every effort to comply with SDCWA’s requests by repeatedly and consistently agreeing to produce all responsive, non-privileged documents. “As a public owned public utility, it’s extremely important that we protect the right of access to public records, but also avoid inappropriately burdening our customers, because the cost of producing documents pursuant to a CPRA request falls directly on them,” said LADWP spokesman Joe Ramallo. “With this ruling, the court recognized that SDCWA’s refusal to narrow its request for records into a reasonable range of documents is not sanctioned by the law.”
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