FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
News from Progress Michigan
September 18, 2014
Contact: Sam Inglot, 616-916-0574, firstname.lastname@example.org
Progress Michigan Challenges MDOC FOIA Redactions in Court
Watchdog group asserts that information was improperly withheld from release
LANSING — On Thursday morning, public watchdog group Progress Michigan filed a lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Corrections, alleging that the department may have illegally redacted at least 16 emails in whole or in part that were part of a Freedom of Information Act request.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday morning at 10:30 a.m. with the Court of Claims at the Michigan Hall of Justice. Progress Michigan’s attorney, Mark Brewer, filed the claim.
“The department continues to fail to disclose these emails to Progress Michigan claiming they relate to departmental preliminary discussions and that they’re of an advisory nature,” Brewer said. “In my experience, this broad and vague exemption is often abused and used to block disclosure.”
MDOC has been served the complaint and will have 21 days to answer, after which a judge will schedule a hearing and review the disputed emails.
Last week, Progress Michigan released an email chain between the head of the MDOC, Daniel Heyns and Gov. Rick Snyder’s chief of staff, Dennis Muchmore, that showed the Snyder administration had pressured the department to cancel a $98,000 fine against out-of-state corporation, Aramark, which has been providing food services in Michigan’s state prisons since December.
The email included a redacted section that was later released by the Department of Corrections. The redacted portion was an email from Muchmore to Heyns that read, “Do we need to get drink.” Redacting this section was clearly illegal and Progress Michigan believes it provides justification for requesting the other emails be released.
“The Department of Corrections has shown that they cannot be trusted to follow FOIA law when it comes to redactions,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan. “We believe information has been illegally withheld and will fight for the release of that information.”
The FOIA request to MDOC was part of a broader effort by Progress Michigan and other Progress Now affiliates to hold executive offices around the country accountable through public records requests.
“There have been an enormous amount of hurdles we’ve had to go through to get this information,” Scott continued. “Despite the hurdles, we believe the department is still withholding information and we’re willing to fight to get the information that we believe the public deserves to see. We know from our FOIA request that the Snyder administration had a role in pulling the fine that was supposedly levied against Aramark. It’s only six months later that, through these emails, we find that never actually happened.”
A copy of Progress Michigan’s court filing can be found here.