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If you requested records from a San Francisco city official or department, and you believe the response you received to be non-compliant or incomplete, you have the right to file a Sunshine Appeal with the City Attorney’s Office. Such a Sunshine Appeal is formally known as a Petition to the Supervisor of Records.
Petitioning the Supervisor of Records
The San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance designates the City Attorney as the “Supervisor of Records” for purposes of adjudicating petitions by requesters to determine whether records withheld by San Francisco city agencies, officials or employees in response to Sunshine requests are public. (S.F. Administrative Code §§ 67.20(c) and 67.21(d)) Often, the Supervisor of Records’ initial involvement in a dispute over whether records are public is sufficient to gain compliance informally—simply by discussing the records and the Sunshine Ordinance’s requirements with the responding agency. But sometimes, a written determination from the Supervisor of Records is necessary, to either:
- Inform the responding department that the records withheld are public, and should therefore be disclosed to the petitioner (when the petitioner is right); or
- Inform the petitioner that the responding department properly withheld the records, while more fully explaining their legal reason for doing so (when the respondent is right).
For all practical purposes, that usually resolves the dispute. However, if a responding department found to be in the wrong were to defy a Supervisor of Records determination, the Sunshine Ordinance authorizes the Supervisor of Records to undertake all necessary and appropriate measures to secure compliance, including making legal referrals to enforcing agencies.
Making a Sunshine Appeal
To file a Sunshine Appeal, no special form is required. You are simply asked to email Supervisor.Records@sfcityatty.org, and provide the following information as the basis for your petition:
- The city department to which you made your request
- The record or records you requested
- The date of your request
- An explanation as to why you believe the decision to withhold or redact records is unlawful
- Other information you consider pertinent
- You contact information, and preferred means of contact
We recommend including copies of correspondence and other documents you consider relevant to your request and/or petition, as these are very helpful to the Supervisor of Records’ full evaluation of your appeal. Petitions can also be sent by U.S. Mail to:
Attn. General Government Team CITY ATTORNEY/SUPERVISOR OF RECORDS City Hall, Room 234 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place San Francisco, CA 94102
Pursuing other remedies
Sunshine Ordinance Task Force
Submitting a Sunshine Appeal to the Supervisor of Records does not preclude you from also filing a complaint with the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, or SOTF, pursuant to S.F. Administrative Code § 67.21(e). You are free to pursue either or both administrative processes simultaneously or at different times.
Judicial Remedies for Sunshine Violations
Neither of the administrative remedies available to you under the Sunshine Ordinance restrict your right to seek judicial remedies in San Francisco Superior Court for Sunshine violations. (S.F. Administrative Code §§ 67.21(f) and 67.21(g)) A lawsuit filed in Superior Court during the pendency of a Sunshine Ordinance Task Force complaint on the same matter would not necessarily affect that administrative appeals process. However, a civil court action filed in the midst of a Supervisor of Records petition on the same dispute would require a halt in that process. The City Attorney’s duty under the San Francisco City Charter and state law to defend the city and its employees in civil litigation necessarily pre-empts conflicting, quasi-judicial responsibilities in the S.F. Administrative Code, as the Sunshine Ordinance itself contemplates. (S.F. Admin Code § 67.21(j))
Annual Reports of the Supervisor of Records
Finally, the Sunshine Ordinance also provides that the Supervisor of Records prepare and submit to the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force an annual report. (S.F. Admin Code § 67.21(h)) Each report tallies and describes all petitions filed since the preceding report, and details opinions and results that either facilitated petitioners’ access to requested records, or more fully explained the legal basis for lawful withholding if respondents’ denials were affirmed. The following are recent Annual Reports of the Supervisor of Records:
- Sixteenth Annual Report of the Supervisor of Records 1/1/15 to 12/31/15
- Fifteenth Annual Report of the Supervisor of Records, 1/1/14 to 12/31/14
- Fourteenth Annual Report of the Supervisor of Records, 10/1/12 to 9/30/13
- Thirteenth Annual Report of the Supervisor of Records, 10/1/11 to 9/30/12
- Twelfth Annual Report of the Supervisor of Records, 10/1/10 to 9/30/11
- Eleventh Annual Report of the Supervisor of Records, 10/1/09 to 9/30/10
- Tenth Annual Report of the Supervisor of Records, 10/1/08 to 9/30/09
- Ninth Annual Report of the Supervisor of Records, 10/1/07 to 9/30/08