B. The FOIA is meant to maximize the public’s access to information related to the functioning of government

MCL 15.231(2) sets forth the legislatively enacted purpose of the FOIA:

It is the public policy of this state that all persons . . . are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and public employees, consistent with this act. The people shall be informed so that they may fully participate in the democratic process.


The courts have recognized this public policy.  For instance, the Michigan Supreme Court has stated that the FOIA is "a prodisclosure act."  Coblentz v Novi, 475 Mich 558, 572 (2006).  This Court stated:

     The FOIA protects a citizen's right to examine and to participate in the political process. Booth Newspapers, Inc v Univ of Michigan Bd of Regents, 444 Mich 211, 231 (1993). By requiring the public disclosure of information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of public officials and employees, the act enhances the public's understanding of the operations or activities of the government.

Kocher v Dep't of Treasury, 241 Mich App 378, 380-81 (2000).  The FOIA was described as "a manifestation of this state's public policy favoring public access to government information, recognizing the need that citizens be informed as they participate in democratic governance, and the need that public officials be held accountable for the manner in which they perform their duties."  Manning v East Tawas, 234 Mich App 244, 248 (1999) (emphasis added); see also Messenger v Ingham Co Prosecutor, 232 Mich App 633, 641 (1998) (noting state's policy in holding public officials accountable for the way in which they carry out their jobs).  The FOIA's intent "is to establish a philosophy of full disclosure by public agencies and to deter efforts of agency officials to prevent disclosure of mistakes and irregularities committed by them or the agency and to prevent needless denials of information."  Schinzel v Wilkerson, 110 Mich App 600, 604 (1981) (emphasis added).  The FOIA "is intended primarily as a prodisclosure statute and the exemptions to disclosure are to be narrowly construed."  Swickard v Wayne Co Medical Examiner, 438 Mich 536, 544 (1991).

The desire to provide easy access to governmental information is seen in the statutory structure of the FOIA.  FOIA requests can be submitted by a traditional letter, an e-mail, or facsimile.  MCL 15.235(1).  The government is only given a short time, 5 business days, to respond to FOIA requests, MCL 15.235(2), and may only seek a single 10-business-day extension.  MCL 15.235(2)(d).  The public is given the right to "inspect, copy, or receive copies of the requested public record," MCL 15.233(1), or examine public records.  MCL 15.233(3).  FOIA allows the government to charge a minimal fee — at most the hourly wage of the lowest-paid individual who can capably retrieve the information and the marginal cost for making copies.  MCL 15.234.  If the requesting party needs to file a lawsuit, that suit can be filed where that party resides or where its principal place of business is located.  MCL 15.240(4).  Courts are required to grant reasonable attorney fees if a FOIA request was improperly denied.  MCL 15.240(6).  If a court determines that the public body arbitrarily and capriciously denied a FOIA request, a $500 fine is required.  MCL 15.240(7).  Finally, the statute indicates that the courts are supposed to take special care to expedite the hearings. MCL 15.240(5).

The entire structure of the statutes related to the FOIA indicates that the public should find this process easy and cheap.