Westland ruled to have 'subverted' the law
The city of Westland "subverted" Michigan's Freedom of Information Act and must comply with the law, according to a recent judge's ruling.
"They [Westland officials] were over charging," said William Maze, the Livonia attorney who sued the city. "Clearly they were doing it to make a profit."
Maze said the case involved a request for information from the police department. He said he thought Westland might have set its rates high to discourage the public from filing FOIA requests.
"They were charging $75 per video (and) $35 for audio," he said of Westland's FOIA charges. "[For documents] they were charging $5 for the first and second page and $1 per page thereafter. Or you could pay a flat $45.61 per hour rate. There was no basis for what they were charging."
The document fees and hourly rate are nearly identical to fees quoted to Michigan Capitol Confidential for a FOIA request it made earlier this year. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy filed a lawsuit against Westland claiming those fees violated the state's FOIA law. That case is still pending.
Maze took the city of Westland to court over its FOIA fees and also its practice of restricting access to traffic stop videos that are subject to FOIA. The case was Steven Eugene LaHaine v. City of Westland.
On Aug. 29, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Marvin Stempien ruled against the city of Westland. In his decision Judge Stempien wrote:
The public policy stated in the ACT is subverted by any cost to the members of the public who are requesting information that is outside the actual cost enumerated in the ACT.
Defendant [City of Westland] claims that MCL 15,234 [the Freedom of Information Act] allows it to also charge for the equipment that is used in those activities that are required to comply with the FOIA request. Nowhere in MCL 15,234 is a charge for the cost of equipment permitted.
The ruling also stated that after items that are exempt from disclosure are blocked out, full audio and video recordings requested in FOIAs "shall be provided."
Judge Stempien concluded: "Thus, defendant [City of Westland] must forthwith revise its fees to comport with the clear language of MCL 15,234."
Maze said Westland has now stopped charging for FOIA materials.
"They (the materials) have been free of charge until the city can find out how much it should be charging," he said.
The Mackinac Center's lawsuit was filed Sept. 20 in Midland County Circuit Court and was prompted by a $5 fee the city was charging before even beginning to search for the requested information.
Westland city officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Here is a video of the Mackinac Center case: