Outside Legal Counsel PLC

FOIA Documents Secured From Overcharging City Government

For Immediate Release | Nov 09, 2017

Outside Legal Counsel, on behalf its client, reached a settlement with the City of Harbor Beach to obtain withheld records under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act.

Under FOIA, public bodies can charge a small fee for retrieving and copying requested records. However, when the public body wants to hide these records, the fee becomes unreasonable and illegal. That was the allegation in the case of Lambert v City of Harbor Beach.

Outside Legal Counsel represents Michigan Open Carry, Inc and its president, Thomas Lambert, in retrieving those files for the correct fee.

After much legal wrangling and oral arguments before a local judge,the City has provided the records to Mr. Lambert at no cost and paid attorney fees and costs in prosecuting this case.

In September 2016, the City of Harbor Beach voted to prohibit the “open carry” of handguns, in addition to concealed carry, for their employees after a local crossing guard inquired about the City’s policy. See Kelly Krager, Crossing Guard Fights for Right to Open Carry, Huron County Review, Sept 22, 2016, available at https://goo.gl/sWoXeX.

The basis of the City’s action was claimed to be for “liability” and insurance issues. When the proffered justification was questioned by open-carry advocates, the City declined to provide any documentation supporting their position.

On October 3, 2016, three Freedom of Information Act requests were made seeking the records involving that decision, including how the City’s policy on firearms carried by employees may affect the City’s insurance rates.

The City responded claiming that it required more than $250.00 for the records. It was later revealed that the City treated FOIA requests dismissively with its City Manager, Ron Wrubel, telling its Mayor, Gary Booms, in an email this is "some more busy work we do not have time for."

However, Michigan law requires that the City make time for citizens who want "full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them..."

Several emails went back and forth about the illegal fee. Having no other choice due to stonewalling and improper cost demands, a FOIA lawsuit was filed.

Initially, the Court sided the City and dismissed the case. However, Outside Legal Counsel was quick to point out that the Huron County Circuit Court was using irrelevant precedence. In 2014, the FOIA statute was updated outlining, precisely, the proper fee a public body may charge.

Thereafter, the Huron County Circuit Court granted a rehearing for late November 2017 and in lieu further litigation, the City of Harbor Beach gave up. More than 175 pages of documents were disclosed, including the email showing the disdain the City Manager has for government transparency laws like the Freedom of Information Act.

"The reaction of the city manager is all too typical but also completely improper," states Philip L. Ellison, the OLC attorney on the case. "Sunshine laws like the Freedom of Information Act were enacted precisely to require frustrated bureaucrats and stonewalling government officials to disclose the documents outlining the backroom deals and decisions made for the taxpayers."

A copy of the settlement can be review here.

Outside Legal Counsel is a Michigan law firm which specializes in private lawsuits against public officials and public bodies in violation of the Freedom of Information Act and the Michigan Open Meetings Act. Our attorneys have appeared and won at all levels of Michigan courts and have worked with legislators in enhancing the sunshine laws of Michigan.