Access to Public Records in Michigan

Note: This page covers information specific to Michigan. For general information concerning access to government records see the Access to Government Records section of this guide.

You have a statutory right to inspect Michigan's public records using the state's Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), unless you are "incarcerated in state or local correctional facilities." See Section 15.231 of Michigan Compiled Laws ("Mich. Comp. Laws").

What Records Are Covered in Michigan

What Government Bodies Are Covered

You can inspect the public records of any Michigan agency, department, division, bureau, board, commission, or council in the executive and legislative branches of the state government. You can also inspect the records of bodies created by or funded primarily by state or local authorities. However, the Freedom of Information Act does not apply to the Michigan state legislature or its committees, nor to the state courts. Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.232. Refer to Access to Government Meetings in Michigan and Michigan State Court Records for more information on how to access records from the state legislature and the state courts.

What Types of Records Can Be Requested

You can inspect all "public records" of the government bodies subject to the Michigan FOIA. The term "public record" refers to any "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," including computerized data, but not including software. Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.232.

Exemptions

A FOIA coordinator (the government officer who controls or has access to public records for a public body) may refuse disclosure of the requested records if one or more of the following statutory exemptions applies:

  • information that would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of an individual's privacy
  • certain investigatory materials compiled for law enforcement purposes
  • records pertaining to the physical security of custodial or penal institutions, unless public interest in disclosure outweighs the public interest in nondisclosure
  • records exempted under another statute
  • records that are transmitted from one public body to another, as long as the records fall into any of the exemptions listed under the Michigan FOI statute
  • trade secrets or commercial or financial information voluntarily provided to an agency for use in developing governmental policy and upon a promise of confidentiality
  • information subject to attorney-client privilege, physician-patient privilege, psychologist-patient privilege, the minister, priest, or Christian Science practitioner privilege, or other privilege recognized by Michigan law
  • records containing proposals and bids to enter into any contract until the time the proposals and bids are to be opened publicly
  • appraisals of real property acquired by a public body
  • test questions and answers, and scoring keys used to develop, administer or score a test or examination, as long as the information is to be used for another test or examination by the public body
  • medical, counseling, or psychological facts which would reveal a person's identity
  • advisory internal communications that are meant to assist with a final agency determination of policy or action, unless public interest in disclosure outweighs the public interest in nondisclosure
  • law enforcement plans for addressing situations involving public safety, unless public interest in disclosure outweighs the public interest in nondisclosure
  • information that would reveal the exact location of archaeological sites
  • academic transcripts of students who are delinquent on university loans
  • records of a campaign committee, including those that receive state campaign monies
  • personal information about law enforcement officers and their families
  • information identifying an informant
  • operational instructions and staff manuals for law enforcement officers
  • information about investigations into a health care professional's compliance with the public health code before a complaint is issued
  • records on a public body's security measures
  • records from a public body where the requester is party to a civil lawsuit against the public body
  • all application material that could be used to identify a candidate desiring the position of university president, unless the candidate has already been identified as a finalist
  • building and infrastructure plans and emergency procedures whose disclosure might create a public safety risk, unless public interest in disclosure outweighs the public interest in nondisclosure
  • records that are protected by the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974

For more information about the exemptions as they appear in the statute, refer to Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.243. Additionally, you should also consult the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press's Open Government Guide: Michigan, and the Office of the Michigan Attorney General's helpful summary to better understand the exemptions for the Michigan FOIA.

How to Request Records in Michigan

You must make a written request and fax, email, or mail it to a public body's FOIA coordinator. The Student Press Law Center has a unique letter generator that can help you create your request. Additionally, the Michigan Attorney General's Office has a helpful summary of how to request records (scroll down to the sections titled "Availability of Public Records" and "Fees for Public Records"). Note that you may request a specific record, and also subscribe to public records that are created, issued or disseminated on a regular basis. Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.233.

The FOIA coordinator has five days to refuse or comply with your request. Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.235. If you want a copy of the records, you may need to pay a fee. The fee is limited to the cost of complying with the request, and may cover the time the FOIA custodian spends searching, redacting, and copying a record. Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.234. Note that the law only applies to existing documents. The law does not require a FOIA custodian to create a record in response to your request.

What Are Your Remedies in Michigan

You have several options open to you should the FOIA coordinator deny your request. First, try to work with the FOIA coordinator. If the public body is relying on an exemption, ask the FOIA coordinator to release the nonexempt portions of the record with the exempt portions removed or redacted.

You may also petition the head of the public body. If she finds that the records are public, the FOIA coordinator will be forced to comply with your request. If, on the other hand, the head of the public body issues a denial, you are entitled to seek court review of the denial. You have 180 days to file a lawsuit with the Michigan state court to enforce compliance with your request. See Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.240. If the court finds that the requested records are public, the court can not only compel the public body to comply with the request, but may also award attorneys' fees and costs, as well as damages, which may include punitive damages. See Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.240(6)-(7). Refer to our section on Finding Legal Help for more information on how to get legal assistance to help you assess the merits of a potential lawsuit against the government entity.

See also the Attorney General's Summary of the Michigan FOIA (scroll down to the "Denial of a Record," "Enforcement," and "Penalties for Violation of the Act" sections).

For more information

You may want to familiarize yourself with the Michigan Legislature's The Michigan Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act.

 

Last updated on September 19th, 2011

   
 
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