Outside Legal Counsel PLC

Cass County Drops $4,000 Demand for FOIA Fees; Produces Email Records

For Immediate Release | Sep 29, 2015

Cassopolis, Michigan - After trying to demand thousands of dollars for copies of simple emails, Outside Legal Counsel and Cass County reached an agreement requiring the immediate disclosure of nearly 2,000 pages of emails and documents at no cost for use in an investigation by a former employee for unfair labor practices and other alleged legal wrongdoing.

On March 5, 2015, Debra Troche, a former highly-regarded employee taking legal action against the County, filed a Freedom of Information Act or FOIA request seeking electronic communications (i.e. county emails) involving a number of keywords, mostly about Troche. While initially taking the permitted one-time 10 day extension, Cass County never provided a response or produced a single document by the deadline. She again wrote to Cass County asking about the records and the missed deadline. Again, no response. On April 14, 2015, Troche filed her own lawsuit and another two weeks went by before the county claimed to have mailed a response letter. Such letter was never received.

However, the late letter dropped another shocker--it sought a whopping fee of over $4,000 for copies of the records.

Suspecting something was amiss, Troche retained Outside Legal Counsel for assistance.

Following substantial discussions with county counsel and oral arguments before the Cass County Circuit Court, Cass County withdrew its demand for $4,491.86 and instead provided the records at no charge. The records have since been produced.

"Public records belong to the public, not to select governmental officials," states Philip L. Ellison, the OLC attorney representing Troche. "Playing legal games or charging an excessive fee to block delivery of documents is illegal."

On July 1, 2015, new FOIA laws went into effect to curb long-standing abuses by local and state public bodies in asserting excessive fees to prevent the disclosure of public documents. The maximum per page copy cost cannot exceed 10 cents per page and the maximum labor costs is capped at $50 but the work completed by the lowest wage employee capable for performing the task.

The new FOIA also requires full disclosure of all FOIA policies at no cost and must be posted on a public body's website.

Outside Legal Counsel has successfully represented clients before Michigan courts on a variety of FOIA and Open Meetings Act issues, including first-impression rulings involving the Michigan Gaming Control Board, the pay-to-play policing scheme in Oakley, Michigan, and the mass-email violations at Algonac Community Schools on appeal.