Keep Your Agency Out of Hot Water: How a Records Request System Protects You from Lawsuits

Our experience working with clerks and records custodians across the country has shown us that you overwhelmingly value transparency, citizen involvement, and just doing the right thing.

Yet The FOIA Project shows 844 FOIA-related lawsuits filed in 2022—a 26% spike from 2021. Why? Among other reasons… because fulfilling records requests has become harder.

In fact, our top FOIA trends data indicates:

  • Agencies received 16% more records requests in 2022 than 2021
  • Complex “any and all” requests rose 25% from 2021 to 2022
  • 81% of agencies need more time and resources to complete requests than in previous years
  • The number of responsive files per request has almost doubled since 2020

These statistics mean that it’s more complicated than ever for agencies to comply with public records laws. But the good news is that a records request solution like JustFOIA can make it much easier. In this blog post, we’ll explore how.


Agencies typically have between 10 and 20 days to provide documents in response to a public records request. The exact time limit varies depending on your jurisdiction. You may also be eligible for an extension if they demonstrate the need for a delay. Acceptable reasons could be an unusually high number of files required to complete the request (as in the case of many “any and all” type requests) or if records spread between multiple physical locations.

Excessive delays can sometimes result in legal action against your agency—or you personally. In Texas, a public employee can even be found “criminally negligent” and receive a fine of up to $1000 or 6 months in jail! While harsher penalties are rarely enforced, they show the importance of timely completing requests.

There are many ways a system speeds up your request process. Key JustFOIA features include:

  • Standardized intake forms ensure you collect the information you need from the start.
  • Custom, automated workflows with notifications, reminders, and automatic escalations as the due dates approach.


When requesters don’t understand what’s going on with their requests, sometimes they choose the nuclear option… a FOIA lawsuit. But when an agency provides open communication and transparency, requesters are more likely to keep their cool.

JustFOIA’s correspondence tools allow you to send automated email notifications to requesters or for them to track the status of requests online. If you need to ask the requester for clarification or more information, it’s a quick, easy, templated response within the system.

Plus, if someone leaves the agency or is out on vacation, you don’t have to dig through an inactive email to find the information you need to complete requests.

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Redaction can be one of the most stressful parts of the records request process.

A Fairfax County Public Schools official accidentally released confidential student information as part of a request that generated 1,300 pages of responsive records in 2021. The requesters (parents of students in the district) published the records online—although they have stated that confidential information was removed. The school district sued to have the records taken down, spending over $300,000 on legal fees and ultimately losing their case.

You can avoid situations like these by knowing what to redact and how to redact it.

What to Redact

When you redact in JustFOIA, you see a drop-down menu listing reasons why a piece of information is redacted, configured to your jurisdiction’s regulations. This helps to keep your redactions accurate.

A records request solution makes finding the information that should be redacted easier. For instance, suppose you need to erase social security numbers from documents. You might search for “SSN” or “Social Security Number” within the text of the documents—but if an SSN is present without that identifier before it, you may miss it. JustFOIA can identify and auto-redact what’s likely to be a social security number (i.e., any number in the format XXX-XX-XXXX) or other type of personally identifiable information.

How to Redact

It’s also important to completely remove information from a digital file before release by “burning” the redaction into the document. Suppose you place a highlighter box over sensitive data in Word, for example, and export it to a PDF. That information still exists beneath the surface of the redaction. But JustFOIA’s redaction features burn into the document by default, saving you from potentially sticky situations.

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Audit Trail

The hard truth is that even if you do everything right, someone unhappy with your response’s results or speed may still decide to file a lawsuit. But your PRR system should provide a detailed audit trail to help protect you. You will have documentation about when you received the request, communication with the requester, what you redacted and why, and other information that will prove that you and your team acted appropriately.

About JustFOIA

Virtually any records request software makes it easier to stay compliant than the old-fashioned “spreadsheet method” for tracking requests. However, we’ve designed JustFOIA to be the most feature-rich, easiest-to-use solution on the market—allowing you to fill requests faster and more accurately than any other system.

“Our legal team loves JustFOIA. It makes it easy for them to review and redact properly. JustFOIA keeps us on track with FOIA deadlines and within the guidelines set forth by state statutes.”

Are you ready to tighten up vulnerabilities in your processes and protect your agency against lawsuits?

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