Note: This page covers information specific to Florida. For general information concerning access to government records see the Access to Government Records section of this guide.
You have a statutory right to inspect a vast number of Florida’s public records using the state's Public Records Act. See chapter 119, section 1 of the Florida Statutes (Fla. Stat.), which states that “all state, county, and municipal records are open for personal inspection and copying by any person.”
What Records Are Covered in Florida
What Government Bodies Are Covered
You are entitled to view the records of all state, county, or municipal units of government, as well as any other public or private entity acting on behalf of one of these agencies. See Fla. Stat. § 119.01. See Access to Government Meetings in Florida and Access to Florida Court Records for more information on how to access records from those government entities.
What Types of Records Can Be Requested
You are entitled to inspect and copy "public records," including all documents, maps, tapes, photographs, films, sound recordings, data processing software, or other material, made or received pursuant to law or in connection with the official business of any agency. Fla. Stat. § 119.011(11).
What Exemptions Might Apply
Unlike other states, where in most cases there are a limited number of exemptions, Florida has hundreds of general and agency-specific exemptions pursuant to which an agency can refuse to provide access to records. The Florida Public Records Act lists the following:
- General exemptions
- Executive branch agency exemptions
- Executive branch agency-specific exemptions
- Local government agency exemptions
A summary of these can be found on the Florida First Amendment Foundation's website, and the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press provides a discussion of the exemptions as well. The Office of the Attorney General's Sunshine Manual also contains helpful summaries of what exemptions apply to law enforcement records, birth and death records, hospital and medical records, education records, and abuse records.
How to Request Records in Florida
You can make a request over the telephone or in writing. While a telephone request may be a quicker way of submitting a routine request, a written request may be preferable if your request is detailed or complicated, or if you anticipate that the agency might deny your request. Having a written record of your request will aid an appeal, should you later decide to make one.
Your request should be addressed to the ‘’’custodian of public records’’’ (the government officer who controls or has access to public records) at the agency which has custody of the records you want to obtain. If you are unsure of which agency to contact, the alphabetical list of records and the agencies that keep them in the Florida Public Records Guide might be useful. The records you're looking for might even be available through a free online search (see Florida Public Records Directory).
There is no prescribed form for the letter, but your letter should contain the following elements, as appropriate:
- A statement that you are requesting records under the Florida Public Records Act
- A clear description of the records that you are seeking
- Your name and contact details
- A demand that if your request is denied, the agency set out the exact statutory citation authorizing the denial as required by Fla. Stat. § 119.07(1)(d) (unless the agency is in the legislative or judicial branch, in which case do not cite the section).
Alternatively, you might find the Florida First Amendment Foundation's sample request letter a useful guide for writing your own letter.
The Florida Public Records Act does not compel agencies to respond to requests within a specific time limit, but the courts have held that an agency is required to respond within a "reasonable" time to locate the records and redact exempt portions. Fla. Stat. § 119.07(1)(a), (c).
An agency can charge you either a set fee prescribed by law, or if no fee is prescribed, no more than 15 cents per page or 20 cents per double-sided page. If you request a certified copy of a public record, then the agency is likely to charge up to $1 per page. If you make a request of a nature and volume that requires the agency to make extensive use of information technology and/or staff time, the agency is entitled to charge a reasonable service charge which reflects the actual cost incurred. Fla. Stat. § 119.07(4).
Note that the law only applies to existing documents. The law does not require a custodian of public records to create a record in response to your request (but she may do so at her discretion).
What Are Your Remedies in Florida
If an agency denies your request, or takes an unreasonably long time to respond, make sure that you have the denial in writing. If the agency has not cited the specific statutory provision under which it claims that the document is exempt, insist that it does so.
You have three options for seeking to have a denial reviewed:
- seek mediation through the Office of the Attorney General Open Government Mediation Program;
- file a complaint with your local state attorney (state attorneys are empowered to prosecute suits charging public officials with violations of the Public Records Act); or
- file a writ of mandamus in court to challenge the agency’s denial of your request and enforce compliance.
Additionally, the Florida First Amendment Foundation invites members of the public to contact it when facing this decision.
If you wish to file a lawsuit to enforce compliance with your request, refer to our section on Finding Legal Help for more information on how to get legal assistance to help you assess the merits of a potential lawsuit against the agency. If you are successful in court, the court will issue an injunction requiring the agency to disclose the records. Additionally, if the court finds that the agency's refusal was unlawful, it is empowered to require the agency to pay your attorney's fees. See Fla. Stat. § 119.12.