Court: Lawyer can seek pay from Dearborn in FOIA fight
An attorney who sought video surveillance from two businesses through the city of Dearborn in a misdemeanor case can seek compensation for the costs associated with his fight, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
Attorney James Amberg had under the Freedom of Information Act requested copies of the Wendy’s and Tim Hortons footage, which the Dearborn Police Department had gathered. The city initially refused, claiming they couldn’t be subject to FOIA since the recordings were not public records.
After Amberg sued, the city turned over the recordings and asked for a summary disposition, which a Wayne County Circuit Court judge granted. The attorney appealed and the Court of Appeals upheld the decision in an unpublished opinion March 25.
Despite the city’s argument, “the fact that the documents were created by private entities does not insulate them from FOIA,” the Supreme Court judges wrote in an opinion filed Tuesday.
They also noted how the material was received as “relevant evidence in a pending misdemeanor criminal matter” and gathered to support authorities’ decision to issue a citation.
“Indeed, that the relevant police file (which was disclosed to plaintiff) referred to the recordings (and to how defendants acquired them) underscores defendants’ official purpose in acquiring them,” the opinion read. “As a result, the recordings are public records within the meaning of FOIA, and defendants were required to produce them in response to plaintiff’s FOIA request.”
The case now goes back to Wayne County Circuit Court, which can consider whether Amberg is entitled to costs and fees.
Dearborn officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday night.