Outside Legal Counsel PLC

Grand Rapids Court Requested to Fine Rockford Over a Million Dollars for FOIA Violations

For Immediate Release | Jan 04, 2018

Rockford, Michigan - Outside Legal Counsel, on behalf of its client, Michael McIntosh, has today filed a motion with the Kent County Circuit Court seeking summary disposition on a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by a resident of Rockford. The motion seeks to have the Court impose a new civil fine against the City of Rockford in excess of one million dollars.

On November 6, 2016, Plaintiff Michael McIntosh, a resident of Rockford, made eight (8) requests under Michiganís Freedom of Information Act for copies of various public records involving a grassroots fight again a condo development known as Tamarack Run project. The City demanded over $3,000 for staff time and copying fees. Yet when the documents were produced, they contained hundreds and hundreds of improper and illegal redactions.

Outside Legal Counsel brought suit to challenge the redactions. Under Michigan law, the presumption is for full and transparent government. After initial court appearances, the City of Rockford was required to legally prove that its more than 500 redactions were proper. It could not do so and decided to simply produce the public records, this time without redactions. But that initial decision to hide public information may be costly.

In 2014, the Michigan Freedom of Information Act was amended by the Legislature to require new civil fines and sizable punitive damages against public bodies who improperly or wrongfully withhold records or redact public information. The Michigan Legislature now requires a fine of at least $2,500 for each wrongful occurrence, plus a separate $1,000 award for punitive damages for each record not provided.

In this case, the City of Rockford redacted at least 500 times, and Michigan law now seems to require the Kent County Circuit Court to impose civil fine against the city in an amount of at least $1,251,000 and $200,000 in punitive damages.

"This case is extraordinary in the scope of the number of unneeded and improper redactions," states OLC attorney Philip L. Ellison. "And its even more extraordinary for the high dollar punishment seemingly now needing to be imposed, via the Legislature, for trying to hide public information."

A hearing is set on the motion for Thursday, February 8, 2018 before Judge Donald A. Johnston.

A copy of the motion may be downloaded here.