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A Better Partnership
October 24, 2011

COA Opinion: A township official's handwritten notes intended solely for personal use are not public records subject to disclosure under FOIA

In Hopkins v Township of Duncan, No. 300170, the Michigan Court of Appeals considered a plaintiff's appeal from an order of summary disposition in favor of the defendant township on the plaintiff's claim that the defendant violated Michigan's Freedom of Information Act ('FOIA'). In his initial FOIA request served upon Duncan Township, the plaintiff specifically requested copies of any notes taken by any elected Duncan Township official at township meetings. After one official did not turn over notes that the plaintiff knew that official had taken during meetings, the plaintiff filed an action alleging that the township had violated FOIA by failing to have the official turn over his notes.

The Court of Appeals disagreed, affirming the trial court's order granting summary disposition for the defendant. The court held that the handwritten notes of the township official, taken in his own personal diary and intended solely for his personal use, were not public records subject to disclosure under FOIA. The township itself did not store or retain the official's personal notes, and the notes were never circulated among other board members, referenced in the public record, or used in the creation of the minutes of any of the township's meetings or in furtherance of the township's business. Additionally, the township official kept the notes entirely of his own volition, and had the ability to retain or destroy the notes at his sole discretion. As a result, the Court of Appeals found that the township official's notes were private writings that did not need to be disclosed to the plaintiff under FOIA because they were not in furtherance of an official function.

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