Many people ask whether the emails sent to or from a public employee or public official are subject to the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). The answer is yes – email correspondence is subject to OPRA if government business is discussed or conducted. That is true even if the public employee or official uses a private email account.
The Government Records Council has held that a valid request for emails requires the following:
- Date range. Note that the range must not be overbroad—requests for months or years of emails may very likely be held to be too broad.
- Subject matter. We recommend stating the subject matter and indicating that you wish the custodian to search both the subject line and the content of the emails.
- Identity of the Sender or Recipient. You do not need to know both the sender and the recipient.
We recommend putting all three of the above items in a request for emails to ensure that an agency will not attempt to deny the request. Some courts have, however, found requests to be valid where they contained less information. We think that an email request is sufficiently specific even without subject matters or keywords.
Examples of requests likely to be found valid are:
- All emails to or from Mayor Jones (using her official township email address or his personal email address) from August 1 to August 15, 2019 regarding the Fourth of July Parade.
- All emails to or from Councilmember Smith (using her official township email address or his personal email address) from January 1, 2020 to March 15, 2020 containing the following keywords: “Jones Park” and “Picnic Tables.”