Sunshine Advisory Bulletin
A Bulletin on Iowa Open Meetings and Public Records Laws
By Attorney General Tom Miller -- May 2006
Can Members of the Public Sue to Enforce Iowa's Sunshine Laws?
Yes - the law arms the public with remedies.
Iowa's Open Meetings and Public Records laws (Iowa Code ch. 21 and 22) are truly the "People's Laws" - meaning that by statute a broad range of people are granted authority to go to court to seek enforcement of Iowa's "Sunshine Laws."
Members of the public can sue governmental officials and governmental bodies to enforce Iowa's Sunshine Laws when they have a good faith basis to believe the law has been violated, and if they are one or more of the following:
- A citizen of the state of Iowa.
- A person who pays taxes of any type to the state of Iowa.
- A person individually aggrieved by a violation of Iowa's Sunshine Laws, such as a person wrongfully denied access to a public record or an open meeting.
People who retain legal counsel to sue a governmental body under Iowa's Open Meetings laws, or sue the lawful custodian of a public record under Iowa's Public Records laws, are entitled to an award of costs and attorney fees if they are successful in establishing a violation of the law. (Iowa Code sec. 21.6(3)(b) and 22.10(3)(c)).
Depending on the circumstances of the violation, the court could issue an injunction to require compliance with the law in the future, void action taken wrongfully in a closed session, assess damages against the violator, or remove a second-time offender from office. (See Iowa Code sec. 21.6 and 22.10).
Remember: Sunshine Laws can be enforced in court by all citizens of Iowa, all persons who pay taxes to Iowa, and all other persons who are harmed by government's failure to comply with the law. In every sense of the word, Sunshine Laws are the "People's Laws."
Citizens who have inquiries or complaints about public records or open meetings may call the Iowa Citizens' Aide/Ombudsman Office -- toll-free at 888-IA-OMBUD (888-426-6283.)
"Sunshine Advisory" bulletins provide information on Iowa's public records and open meetings laws -- our "Sunshine Laws." The bulletins are a resource for public officials and citizens. Local officials should obtain legal advice from their counsel, such as the city or county attorney.
Iowa Attorney General's Office: Hoover Building, Des Moines, Iowa 50319.
On the Web: www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.org.