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A Better Partnership
June 29, 2016

COA: Compliance with FOIA requires a response to, and not fulfillment of, a request for documentation

The Michigan Court of Appeals, in Cramer v. Oakley, No. 330736 held that the government complied with FOIA’s requirement to grant a FOIA request within the statutorily-mandated time period by affirmatively notifying a party that it was granting its request and then supplying the actual documents within a reasonable amount of time after that notification.  The Court concluded that granting and fulfilling a request were two different things.  Because FOIA requires “granting” a request within five business days of its receipt, a government entity need only inform the requesting party whether it will be allowing or denying the request within that time period; it need not actually fulfill the request within those five days. 
 
On May 15, 2015, Cramer sent six separate FOIA requests, each seeking information pertaining to the Village of Oakley’s reserve police department unit.  Five business days later on May 20, 2015, the Village responded with six letters, stating that the FOIA requests were “granted” and that it would “conduct a search of the Village records and provide you a copy of any documentation we are able to locate.”  Before the Village was able to supply the documents to Cramer, she sued the Village, claiming it had violated MCL 15.235(2), FOIA’s requirement that it grant her request within five business days.  The trial court agreed with Cramer and granted her summary disposition motion.  The trial court also granted Cramer attorney’s fees, costs, and disbursements.  The Village appealed.
 
The Court of Appeals reversed, determining that the Village complied with MCL 15.235(2) by responding to the FOIA request within the statute’s five business-day deadline.  The Court held that the Legislature intended that a grant of a request be distinct from the fulfillment of that request.  FOIA does not require that the party responding to a request deliver the requested documents within the five business day period, but it must include an estimation of when it might provide those documents, should it choose to grant the request.  Further, the Court pointed to federal courts that have drawn a distinction between the granting and fulfillment of a federal FOIA request.  Accordingly, the Court reversed summary judgment for Cramer; vacated the award for attorney’s fees, costs, and disbursements; and granted the Village’s motion for summary disposition. 

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