How to Sue for Records

Enforcing FOIA through administrative appeals and lawsuits, with costs, damages, and attorney fees available.

Sample Complaint  

Michigan Trial Court Directory

Where to Sue: Proper venue is the circuit court for the county in which the complainant resides (you) or has his or her principal place of business, or the circuit court for the county in which the public record or an office of the public body is located has venue over the action. 

Options for Enforcing FOIA

  •  Optional Administrative Appeal: Submit to the head of the public body a written appeal that specifically states the word “appeal” and identifies the reason or reasons for reversal of the denial.

    Process for Administrative Appeal: Within 10 days after receiving a written appeal pursuant to subsection (1)(a), the head of a public body shall do 1 of the following:

    (a) Reverse the disclosure denial.

    (b) Issue a written notice to the requesting person upholding the disclosure denial.

    (c) Reverse the disclosure denial in part and issue a written notice to the requesting person upholding the disclosure denial in part.

    (d) Under unusual circumstances, issue a notice extending for not more than 10 business days the period during which the head of the public body shall respond to the written appeal. The head of a public body shall not issue more than 1 notice of extension for a particular written appeal.

  • Deadline to Sue: Commence an action in the circuit court to compel the public body's disclosure of the public records within 180 days after a public body's final determination to deny a request.
  • Court Order: When the court that determines a public record is not exempt from disclosure shall order the public body to cease withholding or to produce all or a portion of a public record wrongfully withheld, regardless of the location of the public record. 
  • Venue: The circuit court for the county in which the complainant resides or has his or her principal place of business, or the circuit court for the county in which the public record or an office of the public body is located has venue over the action. 
  • De Novo Review by Court: The court shall determine the matter de novo and the burden is on the public body to sustain its denial. The court, on its own motion, may view the public record in controversy in private before reaching a decision. Failure to comply with an order of the court may be punished as contempt of court. 
  • Fast Trial Date: An action commenced under this section and an appeal from an action commenced under this section shall be assigned for hearing and trial or for argument at the earliest practicable date and expedited in every way.
  • Costs, Damages, Attorney Fees Awarded: If a person asserting the right to inspect, copy, or receive a copy of all or a portion of a public record prevails in an action commenced under this section, the court shall award reasonable attorneys' fees, costs, and disbursements. If the person or public body prevails in part, the court may, in its discretion, award all or an appropriate portion of reasonable attorneys' fees, costs, and disbursements. If the circuit court determines in an action commenced under this section that the public body has arbitrarily and capriciously violated this act by refusal or delay in disclosing or providing copies of a public record, the court shall award, in addition to any actual or compensatory damages, punitive damages in the amount of $500.00 to the person seeking the right to inspect or receive a copy of a public record. The damages shall not be assessed against an individual, but shall be assessed against the next succeeding public body that is not an individual and that kept or maintained the public record as part of its public function.