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FOIA litigation, FOIA lawsuits, FOIA attorney, FOIA lawyer, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawyers attorneys and requests and data privacy act
FOIA

  1. What is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)?

    FOIA is a federal statute that allows any person or company the right to obtain federal agency records unless the records (or part of the records) are protected from disclosure by any of the nine exemptions in the lawEnsures. The exemptions generally include instances where the disclosure violates the right to privacy, national security, or certain other instances. Related state disclosure laws are often referred to as the Sunshine Acts which stipulates that certain government agencies announce and open their meetings to the public.

  2. What Records Are Available?

    The Federal Freedom of Information Act applies to documents held by agencies of the executive branch of the Federal Government. The executive branch includes cabinet departments, military departments, government corporations, government controlled corporations, independent regulatory agencies, and other establishments in the executive branch.

    The law ensures the protection of the public's right to access public records.

  3. What Records Are Excluded?

    The Freedom of Information ACT Exemptions are relatively vague and often abused by government agencies. When an exemption is claimed, an appeal may be necessary. The exemptions cover:
    (1) classified national defense and foreign relations information,
    (2) internal agency rules and practices,
    (3) information that is prohibited from disclosure by another law,
    (4) trade secrets and other confidential business information,
    (5) inter-agency or intra-agency communications that are protected by legal privileges,
    (6) information involving matters of personal privacy,
    (7) certain information compiled for law enforcement purposes,
    (8) information relating to the supervision of financial institutions, and
    (9) geological information on wells.

    The three exclusions, which are rarely used, pertain to especially sensitive law enforcement and national security matters.

  4. Why Would Anyone Request Records?

    The use of FOIA laws is almost unlimited. However common uses are also well documented. Records of government actions or investigations may provide insight into:

    • Investment decisions. Investigations of companies may highlight problems for investors. This would have included investigations into Enron or Worldcom before their monumental collapses.
    • Media Information. Media often benefits for historical records related to government action
    • Commercial Inquiries. Commercial inquiries may be able to acquire competitor information with regard to price lists for government contracts.
    • Litigation Uses. FOIA requests often expose incidents of government and agency impropriety or wrong doing by private companies that are being investigated by government agencies.
    • Literary or Media Uses. FOIA requests often are used to acquire unreleased government information for media exposes or literary articles and books.
  5. How to request FOIA records?

    Unfortunately, there is no single office of the federal government that handles all FOIA requests. Each FOIA request must be made to the particular agency that has the records that you want. For example, if you want to know about an investigation of motor vehicle defects, write to the Department of Transportation.

    To make a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the first step is to define the scope of the request and the agency. Often assistance of an attorney may be helpful to identify the proper agency from which a request may be made. To help determine the proper agency, you may wish to consult a government directory such as the electronic manual found on the Office of the Federal Register website at http://nara.gov/nara/fedreg/fedreg.html#ep.

    Any Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request must be in writing. You may wish to have an attorney assist with your request. The Act requires three basic elements including:

    • Stating that the request is being made under the Feedom of Information Act
    • An indication of the records sought with specificity.
    • The requestor's name and address.

    It s NOT necessary that you indicate why you are seeking the information.

  6. Is it Free?

    No. The law allows agencies to charge fees in conjunction with the status or purpose of the requester. However, you may seek a waiver or reduction of fees associated with your request, if you can demonstrate to the agency that the disclosure of the records you seek with substantially benefit the public interest.

  7. How do I appeal a denial?

    All too often, government agencies deny requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act. Often, the reasons for denials relate less to the law than agency budget considerations. Nonetheless, you have options. Most agencies require that appeals be made within 30 to 60 days after you receive notification of a denial. The denial letter should tell you the office to which your appeal letter should be addressed. For the quickest possible handling, you should mark both your request letter and the envelope “Freedom of Information Act Appeal.”

    Under the FOIA, the agency has twenty (20) working days to decide your appeal. Under certain circumstances, it may also take an extension of up to 10 working days. At some agencies, as with initial requests, some appeals may take longer to decide.

  8. What can I do if my appeal is denied?

    Often agencies deny appeals. If that happens, to appeal the agency denial, you may take the matter to court. You would be wise to hire an experienced attorney for such a challenge. In an appeal, a FOIA lawsuit may be filed in the U.S. District Court where you live or where you have your principal place of business or where the documents are kept or in the District of Columbia. In court, the agency will have to prove that any withheld information is covered by one of the exemptions listed in the law.

    If a court determines that the records must be provided or you "substantially prevailed" , the court may require the government to pay court costs and reasonable attorney fees for you.

For a Consultation call 612. 240.8005.

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