How quickly must a FOIA request be answered?

Supreme Court ruling changes timeline for a public body to fulfill FOIA requests.

Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) states that all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and public employees. It states:  “The people shall be informed so that they may fully participate in the democratic process.”

Under FOIA, Michigan residents have the right to request certain information from their government units and elected officials, and those government units must comply by providing the individual with information in compliance with the law, though the public body may charge a fee for costs associated with fulfilling the request. Now, not all information is subject to FOIA, and not all government entities are subject to FOIA, but that is not the focus here.

Michigan’s FOIA requires that a public body respond to a request for public record within five business days after the request is received. In 2016, the Michigan Court of Appeals, in Brandi Cramer v. the Village of Oakley, decided that while a public body must respond to a FOIA request within five business days, there is no specific time frame by which they must fulfill the request. For example, under the court of appeals ruling, a public body would have to send a letter stating that the request was granted (or denied) within five business days, but there was not a specific time in which they would be required to actually provide the requested records. This decision effectively held that there was a difference in a public body’s duty to “respond” and “fulfill” a FOIA request.

In April 2017, the Michigan Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals decision in Cramer v Oakley without addressing the merits of the previous opinion. This means public bodies can no longer apply a distinction between responding to a FOIA request and fulfilling it. By vacating the court of appeals decision, the Supreme Court is effectively saying that in order to comply with the Act, a public body must adhere to the tighter timeframe for fulfilling FOIA requests. While the law requires a response within five business days, this is not a hard and fast rule. The statute includes an exception: a public body can issue a notice extending its deadline by no more than 10 days. This is allowed once and only once.

Michigan State University Extension has training programs on complying with the Michigan FOIA. This program is one of many MSU Extension offerings for local governments. Those in MSU Extension that focus on Government and Public Policy provide various training programs. Contact your local Government and Public Policy educator for more information.

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