Michigan Freedom of Information Committee
FOIA Cases summarized
YEAR 2006 CASES
Virginia Chuley had a civil action pending against the Lansing Board of Water and Light. Under FOIA, a government agency does not have to honor a FOIA request from a plaintiff who is suing them. So, Ms. Chuley had her best friend, Joni Taylor, bring a FOIA request for various documents. Those documents included certain personnel records of employees who worked for the Lansing Board of Water and Light.
The Lansing Board said no, arguing that Ms. Taylor was just a surrogate for Ms. Chuley. If they didn’t have to supply documents for a litigant against them, they also would not supply documents to someone else who was acting for the litigant. Furthermore, Ms. Taylor brought the FOIA lawsuit with Ms. Chuley’s attorney representing her.
The trial court agreed with the plaintiff and said the exemption for litigants didn’t apply here. The best friend of a litigant is not the same person, so Lansing Board of Water and Light is obligated to provide documents for the best friend. However, the trial court declined to order disclosure of the personnel records.
The Court of Appeals agreed with the plaintiff on all counts. The exemptions should be interpreted narrowly, the judges said, pointing to the case of Warren v. Detroit, 261 Mich App 165 (2004). It doesn’t matter what the FOIA information will be used for, or who asked for the information, the Court of Appeal added.
The appeals court said it was tempted to
apply the “absurd result rule”
this case, since Chuley could get around the exemption so easily by
asking her girlfriend to act as a proxy. The
judges found it “distasteful” to allow Ms. Taylor to
FOIA action, when Ms. Chuley could not. However,
As for the personnel files, the
Free Press asked the Attorney General
to send some documents about
shipping. The AG said they would
send some of the documents, but not the “exempt” ones.
The AG also said it would charge $20 an hour for three
hours of their
time, 25 cents a page for more than 500 pages, plus mailing costs.
Free Press asked the Attorney General to send some documents about direct wine shipping. The AG said they would send some of the documents, but not the “exempt” ones. The AG also said it would charge $20 an hour for three hours of their time, 25 cents a page for more than 500 pages, plus mailing costs.
The Freep felt those costs were exorbitant. It filed suit in Oakland Circuit Court against the AG and won a victory on the issue of the three hours labor cost at $20 per hour. The judge stated that the AG failed to prove any unreasonably high labor costs due to granting this FOIA request and spending three hours of their time. The Freep asked for attorney fees and costs, since it won this suit. It asked for about $34,000 and the court awarded about $16,000.
The AG was unhappy and took the case to the appeals court. The AG disagreed with the attorney fees and costs it had to pay. The appeals court sided with the AG. Under FOIA, attorney fees and costs are paid if the plaintiff receives the documents on account of the FOIA action. Here, the Freep got the documents anyhow, and the lawsuit was about copy charges rather than giving the plaintiff documents.
A plaintiff can receive attorney fees if he or she prevails under section 10 of the act, receiving documents. But not for prevailing under section 4 of the act, concerning copy charges.
Clinic, Inc. v. City of
Chiropractic clinic had a long-standing habit of visiting police stations and obtaining traffic accident information, including the names and addresses of people who had been in accidents. Suddenly the police stopped giving that information to the public, because under FOIA these records are no longer public. The traffic reports contain personal information about people in accidents such as drivers license number, address, and date of birth.
judge agreed with the City of Detroit, and ordered that the traffic
not have to be released. The judge relied on a case, Larry S.
Baker, PC v.
· Summaries of cases from 2000-2002
This Webpage re-formatted & re-posted with permission May 12, 2009.
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