In ESPN, Inc. v. Michigan State University, the Michigan Court of Appeals issued an important decision regarding incident reports of uncharged crimes. The case involved a Freedom Of Information Act request for all incident reports mentioning one or more student athletes on a 301-person list. The university released the responsive reports, but used the “personal privacy” exemption to redact the names and identifying information of suspects who were never charged with crimes. The Court of Appeals deemed the redactions were improper in this context because the public interest in disclosure clearly outweighed the interest in nondisclosure. The court found that the public had a strong interest in knowing whether student-athletes were treated more favorably than the general student population, and in knowing whether the university accurately reported certain incidents to the news media.
Prior to the ESPN case, many police departments routinely redacted the names of uncharged suspects under the guidance of a Michigan Attorney General opinion. The Court of Appeals decision in ESPN indicates that, in at least some cases, the importance of a news story outweighs a suspect’s right to privacy and requires disclosure. Michigan State University has requested leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court.