Michigan Freedom of Information Committee
FOIA Cases 2003-2005 summarized
YEAR 2005 CASES
Office Planning Group v. Baraga-Houghton,
Plaintiff, an office furniture store, had submitted a bid to a Head Start program, and the bid was awarded to someone else because plaintiff’s bid was much higher than the others. The plaintiff sent a FOIA to Head Start for information and documents about the other bidders, wondering if they had lower quality merchandise. Defendant refused, saying it was a private corporation that just happened to be running a federal Head Start program.
There was some question whether the
plaintiff was relying of
There was some question whether the
plaintiff was relying of
The Michigan Supreme Court also ruled
against the plaintiff, stating that the federal Head Start law does not
give a private person the right to sue.
The Michigan Supreme Court also ruled against the plaintiff, stating that the federal Head Start law does not give a private person the right to sue.
Harold v. EMU, 472 Mich 928, 697 NW2d 527 (2005)
Michigan Supreme Court says the Detroit Free Press and certain state universities may submit amicus briefs. The amicus parties shall include these issues: (1) whether the Court of Appeals correctly applied the appropriate standard of review; (2) whether the Washtenaw Circuit Court clearly erred in applying the § 13(1)(m) Freedom of Information Act exemption, MCL 15.243(1)(1)(m), to the public record in question; and (3) whether purely factual materials, if any, contained within the public record were properly included within the scope of the exemption.
Detroit Free Press, Inc. v. City of Southfield, 269 Mich App 275, 713 NW2d 28 (2005)
The judge ruled in favor of the Detroit Free Press. The amount of pension paid to government employees is not "personal" or otherwise exempt from FOIA. The names of retired police officers are not exempt, either. There is a FOIA exemption related to identifying police officers, 15.243(1)(s), does not apply since these people are retired and are no longer working as law enforcement officers. A private trust is used to pay the retirement, but that is still subject to public disclosure since taxpayer dollars are primarily used to fund the trust.
The Michigan Court of Appeals stated as follows: "The only relevant public interest is the extent to which disclosure would serve the core purpose of the FOIA, which is to facilitate citizens' ability to be informed about the decisions and priorities of their government. [citing Mager]. This interest is best served through information about the workings of government or information concerning whether a public body is performing its core function."
Southgate schools sent a FOIA request to the county prosecutor for information about a teacher who was scheduled for trial. The teacher was accused of criminal sexual conduct. The prosecutor refused to supply the documents. The documents were part of an ongoing investigation, the prosecutor said. Releasing the documents would interfere with law enforcement or deprive the teacher of a fair trial, the prosecutor said, citing the FOIA exemption found at MCL 15.243(1)(b).
The plaintiff (school district) appealed to the Wayne County Executive, and the matter was bounced back to the prosecutor for a more specific statement about the reason for the exemption. While this was going on, the school district appealed. The courts later commented that this was probably a mistake because the FOIA indicates that you must choose whether to appeal within the government agency or sue, and this plaintiff tried to do both.
During the hearing in Circuit Court, the school district argued that it needed those documents immediately for use in a tenure hearing concerning this teacher. The prosecutor pointed out that the criminal hearing was scheduled to take place in just two weeks, and asked that the disclosure be delayed until after the criminal trial. The Circuit Court judge ruled for the prosecutor.
The school district appealed. The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the Circuit Court ruling.
YEAR 2004 CASES
City of Warren v. City of Detroit 261 Mich App 165 (2004)
The City of Warren brought a FOIA lawsuit against Detroit to find out how Detroit figures its water and sewer fees. Detroit claimed that the formula was exempt from FOIA because it is contained in a computer, and is therefore computer "software."
The Macomb Circuit Court judge did not buy that silly argument and ruled in favor of Warren. Detroit appealed.
The Michigan Court of Appeals also decided against Detroit. The court stated that the information in their computer was a public record. Just because it is stored in a computer, with software, does not make the formula "software." In reaching its conclusion, the Appeals Court commented that public records include electronic recordings and computer tapes, referring to two older cases: Farrell v. Detroit, 209 Mich App 7, 530 NW2d 104 (1995) and MacKenzie v. Wales Twp., 247 Mich App 124, 635 NW2d 335 (2001).
Title Office v. Van Buren, 469 Mich 516, 676 NW2d 207 (2004)
Why let the public copy records cheaply when a more expensive way can be found? That is the conclusion of this Michigan Supreme Court case, where someone asked for certain records from the county treasurer pursuant to FOIA.
The defendant argued that it should be able to charge a much higher copying charge based on the TARA (Transcripts and Abstracts of Records Act), MCL 48.101. The defendant won, on the grounds that FOIA doesn’t apply when public records are for sale. FOIA also doesn’t apply where records are copied at a certain cost set forth by another law, such as the TARA.
Local Area Watch v. City of Grand Rapids, 2004
A citizens group had evidence that Grand Rapids was helping a developer violate anti-pollution laws. So, they sent a FOIA request to Grand Rapids. Unfortunately, the information they wanted had to do with records from an executive session which was held in violation of the Open Meetings Act. Because both FOIA and OMA were involved in the case, the plaintiffs should have brought suit under both, not just FOIA.
This lengthy case is very depressing to read because the Kent County judge was obviously working hard to distort the FOIA, and rule in favor of the defendant. Worse yet, the bad decision by the Kent County judge was adopted by the Court of Appeals.
YEAR 2003 CASES
Sclafani v. Domestic Violence Escape, 255 Mich. App. 260 (2003). HELD: nonprofit agencies can be subject to FOIA.
Velda Sclafani, plaintiff, was the executive director of DOVE, an organization dedicated to preventing domestic violence. After being fired or forced to resign, Sclafani requested documents from DOVE. The agency failed to provide her the information. Sclafani brought an FOIA action against DOVE. She claimed DOVE was a public body subject to the FOIA because DOVE was primarily funded by the government.
The lower court found that no single government agency provided more than half of DOVE’s funding. It found that DOVE was not a public body under the FOIA, and it threw out the lawsuit.
The court of appeals saw things differently. It found that the combination of government funding for DOVE amounted to more than half of DOVE’s funding. The court held that MCL 15.232 (d) (iv)’s definition of a public body includes organizations that are funded primarily by the government, even if the government funding comes from separate government agencies. According to the Appeals Court, FOIA is meant to ensure that taxpayers can monitor private organizations which use taxpayer dollars.
The Appeals Court reversed and remanded the case, so that Ms. Sclafani could obtain her documents.
Key v. Township of Paw Paw. 254 Mich. App. 508 (2003).
Beatrice Key ran unsuccessfully for a position as Trustee of Paw Paw Township in VanBuren County. Then she sent a FOIA request to the township for certain election documents.
The clerk of the township, Marlene Peasley, happened to be the daughter of Ms. Key. Ms. Peasley wrote a letter to Ms. Key stating that she could not find the documents. Ms. Key responded with a FOIA lawsuit, asking for disclosure of the information, and for the fees she was charged by the township for the FOIA documents. The judge ruled against Ms. Key.
On appeal, Key suffered another defeat. The appeals court decided that the township was on solid ground denying the FOIA request, since it did not have the documents. The documents were mislaid or lost, therefore the township could not provide a copy to Ms. Key.
There was also a dispute about the amount of money Paw Paw Township charged for copies of some documents it did provide to Ms. Key. The Appeals Court found that 50 cents a page was not unreasonable.
At the end of its decision, the Appeals Court wrote that the defendant township could ask Ms. Key to pay its court costs.
Thomas v. City of New Baltimore, 254 Mich. App. 196 (2003).
Thomas, plaintiff, opposed certain development projects in the city of New Baltimore. He made an FOIA request to obtain public records. The mayor produced several documents the same day, and orally assured Thomas that these were the only applicable records. That evening, Thomas attended a city council meeting, and discovered applicable, undisclosed documents on a bulletin board. Thomas repeated his request the following day. The mayor disclosed the newly discovered records, and again orally assured Thomas that this was the sum of all applicable records. Several weeks later, however, Thomas attended another city council meeting, and discovered more applicable records. Thomas brought an FOIA action seeking full disclosure, which finally prompted the city to complete the requested production. Thomas requested his costs, but the lower court found the FOIA claim moot because the city had complied with the request.
The appellate court noted that the FOIA provides that costs should be awarded to the prevailing party, held that the action was a substantial factor in causing the complete disclosure, and awarded Thomas his costs. The court also remanded an amended part of the action concerning the parking of a boat on a vacant residential lot.
· Summaries of cases from 2000-2002· Summaries of cases from 1997-1999
information about MFOIC, contact Professor
Webpage re-formatted &
re-posted with permission May 12, 2009.