There are three recent FOIA decisions of interest to Michigan municipalities. In Competitive Enterprise Institute v OSTP, the DC Circuit held that work-related emails on a government official’s private email server are public records under the federal FOIA statute. The court rejected the government’s argument that the FOIA only requires disclosure of documents that the government directly controls, finding that such an argument would undermine the purpose of the FOIA. While this case is not binding on Michigan courts, it might influence decisions under the Michigan statute. Government employees and officials should be aware that their work-related emails could be subject to disclosure even if sent on private servers.
In Cramer v Village of Oakley, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that municipalities are not required to completely fulfill a FOIA request within the statutory deadlines, so long as they send a letter indicating whether the request is granted or denied. This means that, in some circumstances, municipalities can take more than 15 business days to complete large records searches. However, the court emphasized that municipalities must still fulfill requests within a reasonable time, or else risk statutory penalties for “arbitrary and capricious” delay.
Finally, in Detroit Free Press Inc. v DOJ, the Sixth Circuit reversed its own precedent and held that federal agencies may withhold booking photographs of criminal suspects under the “personal privacy” exemption of the federal FOIA statute. This decision does not have an immediate impact on Michigan municipalities, since Michigan courts have held that booking photographs are subject to disclosure. However, the Sixth Circuit’s decision might prompt Michigan courts to reexamine that precedent in future cases.