A federal appeals court issued a major ruling Tuesday preserving the rights of Freedom of Information Act requesters to proceed to court quickly when agencies don't comply with the legally required timelines to respond to demands for government records.
For decades, most requesters, agencies and courts have assumed that if an agency does not give a substantive response to a request within the 20 business days the FOIA statute allows, a requester can file suit to try to force such a response.
However, in 2011, a federal judge in Washington ruled in a case brought by the liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington that the Federal Election Commission's acknowledgement of a request was enough to trigger the legal requirement that a requester pursue an administrative appeal with the agency before going to court. The Obama Administration, acting through the Department of Justice, essentially backed the FEC's position.
On Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously rejected that stance.