03 December 2021

Court Upholds Redaction of Names from Public Records Request

In a recent Michigan Court of Appeals decision, Richman v Ingham County, the court addressed a citizen’s assertion that the County violated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  Richman had requested records relative to a complaint against two County 911 dispatchers over the alleged misuse of the Computer Assisted Dispatch (CAD) system.  The County provided records, but it redacted the complainant’s name, address, and phone number under FOIA’s privacy exemption.  Richman asserted he was entitled to know the name of the complainant.

The court disagreed, holding for the County.  It declined to find that an individual’s name is private information, per se.  In this case, however, the complainant’s name was attached to a complaint, under the promise of confidentiality, and he or she presumably wished to keep his or her name private and confidential.  Furthermore, the court determined that learning the complainant’s name would do little to advance FOIA’s core purpose – providing insight on the government’s performance of its public functions.  The County had otherwise provided this information when it produced documentation evidencing what the complaint was, how it was investigated, and the outcome of the investigation.

Richman serves as a guidepost when responding to FOIA requests that may include the names of public citizens or employees.  The names of individuals (e.g., parents who may be making complaints to administrators) are not always private information, but they sometimes may be, depending on what type of information is attached to their name in the public record and whether disclosure of the name would shed light on a school district’s performance of its school functions.  As always, if you have concerns relative to whether information in a public record may be subject to redaction, contact your attorney