Michigan Attorney General: FOIA does not impose deadline for fulfilling request

Each year in mid-March, we celebrate Sunshine Week. Sunshine Week is a national initiative organized by the American Society of News Editors to educate the public about open government and celebrate government transparency.

One of the laws that protects transparency and open government is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). This act protects the public’s right to access government documents, with certain restrictions. While the act does protect this right, there are often complaints about the cost associated with a FOIA request, or how long government bodies can take to provide the information requested.

The Act is clear that a public body has five days to reply to a FOIA request (MCL 15.235 (2)). This can be extended for up to 10 days once. The Act, however, is less clear on how quickly a public body must actually provide the documents requested. The Act states only that:

“The response shall also contain a best efforts estimate by the public body regarding the time frame it will take the public body to comply with the law in providing the public records to the requestor.” (MCL 15.234 (8))

A recent Attorney General opinion states that based on this, FOIA does not impose a specific time by which a public body must fulfill a request once it has been granted. The opinion further states that the public body is “guided by, but not bound by,” the best efforts estimate it provided in granting the request. Read more…