Wayne State was ordered to pay $6,000 in attorney fees July 23 to the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation after a lawsuit was filed against WSU claiming the university ignored multiple Freedom of Information Act requests.
The lawsuit was filed in June 2018 by Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech professor. Edwards, a principal investigator and researcher for the Flint water crisis, claims WSU failed to complete three FOIA requests.
According to the lawsuit, Edwards submitted three FOIA request to WSU on March 30, 2017; March 1, 2018 and March 3, 2018.
The lawsuit states, “Dr. Edwards has submitted a number of FOIA requests that have sought information commonly obtained through FOIA — work-related emails, grants and proposals, and the like. In response to these FOIA request, Wayne State has delayed and otherwise been non-compliant and has ignored certain requests altogether.”
In a statement, Edwards said he submitted these FOIA requests after allegations were made of high-ranking state employees obstructing justice by interfering with a $3.35 million state-funded program on the Flint water crisis.
The lawsuit states Edwards had to pay request fees for certain emails, but WSU failed to provide Edwards these emails even after Edwards said he paid the request fees.
“Flint residents were receiving conflicting messages from the research team at Wayne State," Edwards said in a statement. "After asking questions and failing to receive simple answers, they felt they had no alternative to get the information they wanted by filing a FOIA. I am hoping the public can learn the truth about the now public conflicts between Wayne State and the state of Michigan — I am wondering if Wayne State is ignoring FOIA law because the documents reflect negatively on their employees.”
WSU communication’s director, Matt Lockwood said in a statement WSU did not ignore the FOIA requests.
“At no time did WSU deliberately ignore FOIA requests from Dr. Marc Edwards. Thousands of documents were produced to the plaintiff over a period of time. The vast majority of the documents were provided in August 2018. A few more were provided in November 2018. There is nothing outstanding at this point that needs to be produced,” the statement said.
“Nor did WSU ever wrongfully withhold information requested pursuant to these FOIA requests. This is substantiated by the fact that the Court flatly rejected Plaintiff’s request for any type of damages to Plaintiff pursuant to MCL 15.240(7). The Court held: ‘There is nothing to suggest that defendant (WSU) acted arbitrarily or capriciously with respect to its handling of FOIA requests at issue.’” the statement further read.
According to the National Freedom of Information Coalition, anyone — with the exception of incarcerated felons — can request public records in Michigan and can use the information in any way. The Michigan Freedom of Information Act allows five days for any response to the requests.
Exceptions to a FOIA is information deemed private, trade secrets, advisory communications with government agencies, attorney-client communications, medical counseling and psychological facts or appraisals, records of campaign committees and some law enforcement records, according to the National Freedom of Information Coalition.
Slone Terranella is the editor-in-chief of The South End. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cover photo by Jonathan Deschaine. He can be reached at email@example.com