Michigan Freedom of Information Act
What is the Michigan Freedom of Information Act?
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a law enacted across the United States that guarantees the access of the public to government records, upon request. Initially enacted at the federal level by the U.S. Congress in 1967, FOIA legislation currently exists across all states and territories of the United States. FOIA legislation affords the public the right to request information and records of government agencies related to the performance of their activities in the interests of the public.
The Michigan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was enacted in 1977 as a series of statutes that ensured public access to the public records of state government agencies. Records are defined under the Act as all documents, including hand-written, typed, printed, photocopied, photographed, or otherwise recorded by any other means, including audio. The information or records must be prepared, owned, used, maintained, or retained by a public agency for the conduct of official functions. The Act does allow multiple exemptions to the information available under its provisions.
Michigan’s public policy dictates that all persons are entitled to receive complete information regarding the affairs of governments and acts of the officials representing them. The policy sought to facilitate the equitable participation of the public in the democratic processes that governed them. Any person, other than an incarcerated felon, can request to view and copy or to receive a copy of a public record.
What is Covered Under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act?
The Michigan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) facilitates the release of the public records of the public agencies in the state of Michigan. The law defines public records as any record prepared, owned, used, maintained, or retained by a public agency for the purposes of conducting official activities. The record may be handwritten, typewritten, printed, photographed, photocopied, or in other recorded form that contains letters, words, pictures, sounds, symbols, or a combination of these. Public agencies include all state agencies, departments and commissions, public colleges and universities, school and other boards, and county and local governments.
The Michigan Open Meetings Law is the law that regulates the procedures for conducting public meetings in the state. The law provides that certain meetings of public agencies be made open to attendance by members of the public. It also requires that a notice of the meeting be given to the public and the minutes of the meeting be recorded. The law provides enforcement and penalties for persons who violate its provisions. A public meeting is a gathering of a quorum of the members of a public agency with the express purpose of deliberating on matters of public interest. The Michigan Open Meetings Law does make the following exemptions to open public meetings; these include:
- Adjudications by administrative bodies, such as deliberations
- Grand jury testimony
- Collective bargaining sessions
- Parole board meetings
- Disciplinary hearings of public employees, including suspensions, dismissals, and complaints
- Personnel evaluations of public officers, if named persons request closed hearings
- Real estate negotiations
- Pending litigation discussions
What Records are Exempt from the Freedom of Information Act in Michigan?
The Michigan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) makes provisions for records that are exempted from its provisions and are not available upon request. These exemptions were added to address privacy and security concerns, and include:
- Archaeological information
- Academic transcripts and personal information of students
- Personal information that if released would lead to an invasion of privacy
- Pending investigations by law enforcement
- Medical records
- Information that if released would jeopardize prisons security
- Examination information
- Attorney-client privileged information
- Trade secrets
- Appraisals for potential property acquisitions
- Information that if released would jeopardize the security of individuals or infrastructure
- Computer software
- Social security numbers
The Michigan FOIA also makes exemptions for "Communications and notes within a public body or between public bodies of an advisory nature to the extent that they cover other than purely factual materials and are preliminary to a final agency determination of policy or action. This exemption does not apply unless the public body shows that in the particular instance the public interest in encouraging frank communication between officials and employees of public bodies clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure."
The Michigan FOIA does not require the Executive Office of the Governor to respond to requests and disclose its records. However, the Act also does not authorize the Office to withhold public records in its possession that have been legally requested under the Michigan FOIA.
How Do I File a Michigan Freedom of Information Act Request?
Any person not currently incarcerated in a correctional facility is eligible to request Michigan public records. There are no requisite qualifications, such as residency, age, or a statement of purpose, to submit a request for records under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). FOIA requests must be in writing and be descriptive enough to facilitate the location of the required records. Some public agencies might prescribe request forms for the submission of record requests, but this is not mandatory.
The Michigan FOIA requires that every public body employ a FOIA coordinator, who will be responsible for responding to FOIA requests made to the agency. Requests for records under the Michigan FOIA must be submitted to the FOIA coordinator of the agency or body that retains the specific records. Typically, requests for records can be submitted online, mailed, or faxed to the requisite body.
Persons requesting, to inspect or for copies of, records from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) submit their requests online, by mail, or by fax. The Department recommends online requests to ensure expediency in the response process. Persons sending requests by mail or fax must send written requests that competently describe the records being requested enough to facilitate their location. These record requests should be sent to:
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services
ATTN: FOIA Coordinator
Lansing, MI 48909
Fax: (517) 241-1200
FOIA record requests to the Michigan State Police (MSP) can be submitted online, by mail, email, or fax message. Online submissions are made using the MSP Records Portal. Users are required to create login accounts to use these services.
The Department provides a Request for Public Records Form template that requesters can use for submissions, but this is not mandatory. Submit written requests for FOIA records either by email or by regular mail or fax to:
Michigan State Police
ATTN: FOIA Coordinator
Lansing, MI 48909
Fax: (517) 241-1935
What is the Cost of a Freedom of Information Act Request in Michigan?
The fees for obtaining copies of records under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) are based on the costs accrued for the actual record retrieval. The agency will typically send the requester an itemized list that shows the requested records and associated fees if any. The Michigan FOIA allows public agencies to charge for the provision of records for inspections or for providing copies for requests. Public agencies may attach costs to searches, examinations, reviews, and for redacting exempted information whereby unreasonable high costs were expended on these activities. However, charges for activities must be limited to actual duplication of records, mailing, and other labor costs.
The Michigan FOIA provides waivers on the first $20 of fees for indigent persons and persons receiving assistance from the State.
How Long Does it Take to Respond to a Freedom of Information Act Request in Michigan?
The Michigan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) specifies that public agencies and bodies must respond to requests for public records within 5 business days. A response to a public record request can either be:
- The granting of the request.
- The denial of the request. A written notice must be sent to the requester indicating this and providing reasons for the denial
- Granting of the request in part and the issuance of denial in part. Typically this will involve redaction of parts of the record.
- The issuance of a notice that extends the body’s response period to the request by 10 business days.
The 5-day time limit for public bodies to respond to a request for public records commences when the bodies receive sufficient enough information to facilitate the record search.
If a public record request is denied, the requester may file an appeal with the Head of the public agency that denied the request or with the State Circuit Court. Appeals to the agency Head must be written and must specifically state the word “appeal”; it must also provide reasons why the requester believes the denial should be reversed. The Head of the public agency is required by the law to respond to any appeal within 10 business days of receiving it. To respond to an appeal, the Head of the public body must either
- Reverse the decision to deny the request
- Uphold the decision to deny the request
- Reverse the denial in part and uphold the denial in part, by providing redacted record copies
- Issue a notice extending the response time by a further 10 days.
Appeals to compel disclosure by public agencies that are filed in Circuit Court must be initiated within 180 days of the final determination by the body to deny the request.