Public Records (Inspection and Copy Requests)

Information:

Multiple state laws (often referred to as “public records laws” or “freedom of information laws”) require the University to disclose certain information within its possession. For purposes of this office, there are two primary sets of laws: the Tennessee Public Records Act, and laws applicable to the bid process. Although frequently cited by persons requesting public records, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), a federal statute, does not apply to The University of Tennessee, and the University is under no obligation to honor a request made under FOIA.

Bid process:

Regarding bidders, the following general laws apply:

  • After a bid opens for submission, all submissions are confidential until the University issues an intent to award. After the University issues an intent to award, all bidders who responded to a bid invitation may request any documents (including bidders’ responses) related to the bid. This applies to all bidders who responded to a particular bid, not just Tennessee citizens. TCA 12-3-502(g).

  • After a bid opens for submission, all submissions are confidential until after the deadline closes and the University issues an award. After the University issues an award, submissions, all submissions are public record and available to any Tennessee citizen (not just bidders). TCA 10-7-504(a)(7).

Public Records Act:

If a requestor was not a bidder, then the requestor’s request falls under the Tennessee Public Records Act: any Tennessee citizen may make a public records request for information related to any bid or award issued by the Office of Procurement Services.

The University will not release information that state or federal law deem confidential, such as protected health information protected by HIPAA, or student information protected by FERPA. In other words, unless state or federal law deem information confidential, the information is considered a public record and subject to disclosure. As noted below, applicable laws do not deem a supplier’s confidentiality notice as determinative whether information is actually confidential under law.

Who is allowed to see public records?

The Tennessee Public Records Act provides that any citizen of Tennessee has the right to personally inspect a public record unless there is a state law that restricts or prohibits inspection. Tenn. Code Ann. Section 10-7- 503(a)(2)(A). Only citizens of Tennessee have the right to inspect and receive copies of public records. In Tennessee, a request to inspect or receive copies of public records is called a “public records request” or an “open records request.”

The University will verify the citizenship of anyone requesting to inspect or copy our records.

Form of Requests:

If a person requests copies of public records, the University may require that the request be made in writing. Requests to inspect or receive copies of public records must be sufficiently detailed to enable the custodian of records to identify specific records to be inspected or copied.

Confidentiality:

The following is a list of significant exceptions to the right of inspection/copying under the Tennessee Public Records Act:

  1. Sealed bids and related records for the purchase of goods and services until the evaluation process has been completed (Source: T.C.A. § 10·7-504(a)(7));

  2. Proposals and related records for personal, professional, and consultant services contracts until the evaluation process has been completed (Source: T.C.A. § 10-7-504(a)(7));

  3. Records protected by the attorney-client or work product privilege;

  4. The following information about any University employee and any member of his/her immediate family or household members: (1) home telephone and personal cell phone numbers; (2) bank account and individual health savings account, retirement account, and pension account information, provided that University financial records that show the amounts and sources of contributions to such accounts or the amount of pension or retirement benefits provided to the employee or former employee by the University are not confidential; (3) social security number; (4) residential information; (5) driver's license information (except where driving is part of the employee's job description or incidental to the performance of the employee's job); (6) emergency contact information; and (7) personal, nongovernment issued, e-mail address. (Source: T.C.A. § 10-7-504(f)(1));

  5. Records containing opinions of value of real and personal property to be acquired for a public purpose until the acquisition has been finalized (Source: T.C.A. § 10-7-504(a)(6));

  6. Education records, which are defined as records maintained by the University and directly related to a current or former student. However, if information can be redacted from an education record so that the student's identity cannot be easily traced, the redacted record is subject to public inspection (Source: T.C.A. § I0-7-504(a)(4));

  7. Computer programs, software, software manuals, and other types of information manufactured or marketed under legal right and sold, licensed, or donated to the University (Source: T.C.A. § I0-7-504(a)(18));

  8. Credit card numbers of persons doing business with the University and any related personal identification numbers (PIN) or authorization codes (Source: T.C.A. § 10-7- 504(a)(19);

  9. Job performance evaluations of University employees (Source: T.C.A. § 10-7-504(a)(25);

  10. Bank account information that is received, compiled, or maintained by the University, including, without limitation debit card numbers, and any related PIN or authorization codes, bank account numbers, and transit routing numbers (Source: T.C.A. § 10-7-504(r));

  11. Certain records related to sponsored research or service conducted by the University (Source: T.C.A. § 49-7-120);

  12. Records concerning gifts to the University that include the name, address, telephone number, social security number, driver license information, or any other personally identifiable information about the donor or members of the donor's family (Source: T.C.A. § 49-7-140);

  13. Working papers created, obtained, or compiled by the University's internal audit staff (Source: T.C.A. §§ 4-3-304, 10-7-504(a)(22));

  14. Information that would allow a person to obtain unauthorized access to confidential information or to government property (Source: T.C.A. § 10-7-504(i)); and

  15. Information and records that are directly related to the security of any building owned, leased, or controlled by the University (e.g., information relating to alarm and security systems, security plans, assessments of security vulnerability, structural or operational vulnerability, and audio or video surveillance recordings except for recordings of an act or incident involving public safety or security or possible criminal activity) (Source: T.C.A. § 10-7-504mi)).

Electronic Copies:

As of May 1, 2015, The University of Tennessee’s Knoxville-area Office of Procurement Services will make reasonable efforts to fulfill all records requests electronically via email whenever possible. The Office of Procurement Services encourages suppliers to make requests via email. This practice is intended to increase efficiency and decrease our environmental footprint.

Charges:

If a requestor asks for “hard copies” of documents, the University will charge the request $0.15 per black-and-white-print page (letter or legal), and $0.50 per color-print page (letter or legal).

When a request for hard copies or electronic copies of records takes longer than one hour to fulfill, the University will charge a requestor staff time (the “clock” for charges starts after the first hour of university work ends).

The University will not charge a requestor for merely inspecting public records.

Links:

University of Tennessee System Rule on Charges for Producing Copies of Public Records: http://tn.gov/sos/rules/1720/1720-01/1720-01-11.20090626.pdf
Tennessee Office of Open Records Counsel: https://www.comptroller.tn.gov/openrecords/

This information does not constitute legal advice. The University intends for this page to contain accurate information. However, if this page conflicts with any applicable law or regulation, the law or regulation prevails.