It is well known that the federal Freedom of Information Act – or, “FOIA,” for short – provides a right to access non-privileged records from the federal government. But did you know that Michigan has its own Freedom of Information Act enabling individuals to obtain information from the state and local governments?
Last week, Governor Snyder signed a bill amending Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act to provide for increased accountability by state and local governments. (These changes are scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2015.) Under the amended statute, state and local agencies will be allowed to charge no more than ten cents per page for copies of records, and they will no longer be allowed to bill for time spent gathering or copying records. In the event that an agency refuses to produce records that it is legally required to produce under the statute – or unreasonably delays production – it will be subject to new and increased fines. The new law also authorizes lawsuits to be brought against public bodies in instances in which requestors believe they are being overcharged for records. Additionally, agencies will be required to produce records electronically if that is the format sought by a particular FOIA request.
FOIA access is regarded by many as an important tool to help ensure that government is operating transparently and within the law. It should be noted, too, that while FOIA is perhaps best known for its routine use by the media, litigation attorneys frequently use these statutes to obtain valuable information as well. Consider, for instance, the whistleblower case in which a plaintiff employee claims that she filed administrative complaints against her employer for alleged workplace violations. In such a case, the actual administrative complaints – available through a FOIA request – may bear on the question of whether the employer faces liability.
Please stay tuned for further legal updates from Wright Beamer.