e-Journal Summary

e-Journal Number : 58158
Opinion Date : 09/23/2014
e-Journal Date : 09/25/2014
Court : Michigan Court of Appeals
Case Name : Rataj v. City of Romulus
Practice Area(s) : Freedom of Information Act, Municipal
Judge(s) : Jansen, Owens, and O’Connell
Full Text Opinion
Issues:

Whether the trial court properly ruled that the video recording and unredacted names of the citizen and officer involved were exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)(MCL 15.231 et seq.); Herald Inc. v. Eastern MI Univ. Bd. of Regents; Patterson v. Allegan Cnty. Sheriff; Detroit Free Press v. City of Warren; Larry S. Baker, PC v. Westland; MCL 15.231(2); Manning v. East Tawas; Herald Cnty. v. Bay City; Practical Political Consulting v. Secretary of State; "Public record" defined; MCL 15.232(e); "Writing" defined; MCL 15.232(h); Prins v. Michigan State Police; The privacy exemption of MCL 15.243(1)(a); Michigan Fed'n of Teachers & Sch. Related Pers. v. University of MI; Henry v. Detroit; Taylor v. Lansing Bd. of Water & Light; Tobin v. Civil Serv. Comm'n; Internal investigation reports and personnel records; MCL 15.243(1)(s)(ix); Kent Cnty. Deputy Sheriff's Ass'n v. Kent Cnty. Sheriff; Attorney fees, costs, and disbursements pursuant to MCL 15.240(6); Scharret v. City of Berkley

Summary

The trial court erred as a matter of law by ruling that the video recording and unredacted names of the citizen and officer involved in an altercation at the police department were exempt from disclosure under FOIA. Thus, the court reversed the trial court's grant of summary disposition in favor of defendants to the extent that it declined to order disclosure of these specific items. It remanded for entry of partial judgment in favor of plaintiff as to the requested video recording and names, as well as for other proceedings. The court instructed the trial court on remand to "(1) order disclosure of the video recording and unredacted names of the citizen and officer involved in the assault, (2) award plaintiff an appropriate portion of his attorney fees, costs, and disbursements under MCL 15.240(6), and (3) determine whether plaintiff is entitled to punitive damages under MCL 15.240(7)." In all other respects, it affirmed the trial court's order granting summary disposition in favor of defendants and denying plaintiff's request for summary disposition. Plaintiff, an attorney, learned that a Romulus Police Officer had assaulted an unnamed citizen at the Romulus Police Department (RPD). Plaintiff's FOIA request seeking the disclosure of all records pertaining to the assault, including an unredacted copy of the official incident report and a video recording of the assault, was denied in part. On appeal, the court held that the video recording at issue was a "public record" within the meaning of MCL 15.232(e). It also held that given that FOIA's privacy exemption must be narrowly construed and that "disclosure of the video recording would serve the core purposes of FOIA," the video recording was not exempt from disclosure under MCL 15.243(1)(a). It further found that the video was "plainly subject to disclosure," and thus it was unnecessary for the trial court to perform an in camera review of the video. The court also held that the names of the citizen and officer, which were redacted from the incident report, were subject to disclosure under FOIA. However, the other personal information redacted from the incident report (home addresses, dates of birth, and telephone numbers) "was exempt from disclosure under FOIA." Also, "any RPD internal investigation reports and personnel records pertaining to the incident" were exempt from disclosure under MCL 15.243(1)(s)(ix).

Full Text Opinion