Exterior view of the Michigan Capitol Building illuminated at night.

Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act

by Jadranko Tomic-Bobas, Managing Hotline Attorney

Building on my previous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) article, I will examine public bodies that are covered by the FOIA and some of the challenges individuals face when submitting a FOIA request.

The Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act defines public body to include any of the following:

  • State officer, employee, agency, department, division, bureau, board, commission, council, authority, or other body in the executive branch of the state government, but does not include the governor or lieutenant governor, the executive office of the governor or lieutenant governor, or employees thereof;
  • An agency, a board, a commission, or a council in the legislative branch of the state government;
  • A county, a city, a township, a village, an intercounty, an intercity, or a regional governing body; a council, school district, special district, or municipal corporation; or a board, department, commission, council or agency thereof; and
  • Any other body that is created by state or local authority or that is primarily funded by or through state or local authority;
  • The judiciary is not included in the definition.

Any request made under FOIA should describe the record sufficiently to enable the public body to find it. The request should describe, in as much detail as possible, the record you want to make it easier for the public body to find it.

FOIA defines public record as “a writing prepared, owned, used, in the possession of, or retained by a public body in the performance of an official function from the time it is created.” Furthermore, a writing is defined as a “handwriting, typewriting, printing, photostating, photographing, photocopying, and every other means of recording, and includes letters, words, pictures, sounds, or symbols, or combinations thereof, and papers, maps, magnetic or paper tapes, photographic films or prints, microfilm, microfiche, magnetic or punched cards, discs, drums, or other means of recording or retaining meaningful content.” Under FOIA, a public body may charge a fee for responding to requests, and this is where some issues could possibly arise if the request is too broad. “The fee approach” has been utilized in the past – where public bodies charges exorbitant fees for the request of documents. Furthermore, a public body may furnish records at no charge or at a reduced charge if it determines that it is in the public interest to do so. Also, waiver of fee is available to individuals who submit an affidavit of indigency.

Once a request has been submitted, the public body has five days to respond or issue a notice extending the time for responding to the request up to 10 additional business days. If the request is denied, it must be given in writing, state the reason for the denial, and must give notice of the right to appeal.

If you have any questions on the Michigan FOIA, please contact the Legal Hotline for Michigan Seniors at 800.347.5297 and our hotline attorneys will be happy to answer your questions.

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