FOIA Requests: Samples and Links

There are some good resources online with information on how to get public records under the federal Freedom of Information Act and state open records laws which I will link to below.  I am also including 3 sample FOIA requests related to shelter records which will hopefully be useful for readers.  A couple things to keep in mind when filing a FOIA request:

You can only request existing documents.  For example, you can request a copy of a public shelter’s kill records including reason for killing.  You can not request an explanation of why a shelter is killing animals instead of doing its job.  The former is an existing document, the latter is not.

Ask for everything you want and nothing you don’t.  It is up to the records custodian to advise you if any of the requested records do not exist.  If you haven’t been advised the records you want don’t exist, operate on the assumption they do.  Bear in mind that you may be asked to pay for copies so don’t include documents you really don’t need in your request.

Here is a copy of a FOIA request made by Michigan pet advocate Christie Keith.  She used the FOIA generator at the Student Press Law Center.  I have redacted some of the identifying information but wanted to share this as a good example of the specific documents she wanted:

XXXXX, Director
XXXXX Animal Control

Dear XXXXXX,
Pursuant to the state open records law, Mich. Comp. Laws Secs. 15.231 to 15.246 , I write to request access to and a copy of all documents from the months of October, November, and December of 2011 pertaining to dogs and cats designated as “returned” or “adopted” in the MICHIGAN ANNUAL ANIMAL SHELTER ACTIVITY REPORT filed for 2011.

This request includes, but is not limited to, intake or admissions forms, veterinary exam notes or records, kennel cards, behavior evaluations or assessments, notes by shelter/facility staff or volunteers, and any and all written notes, documents, cards, computer entries, adoption forms, animal release forms, and any and all other documentation pertaining to each of those dogs and cats.

Additionally, I request access to and a copy of all documents pertaining to the purchase, use, storage, disposal, and access to all products, drugs, or substances used to euthanize animals of any species during the months of October, November, and December of 2011, on the premises, or on the order or under the direction or at the request, of the XXXXX Animal Control agency, including but not limited to purchase orders, receipts, state or federal drug enforcement records, DEA records, drug logs, veterinary notes or records, euthanasia technician notes or records, computer entries, and any and all other documentation pertaining to the euthanasia of, or disposal of the bodies of, animals admitted to or handled by the agency.

I also request access to and a copy of all documents pertaining to all dogs or cats brought to, or handled by, the agency for purposes of owner-requested euthanasia during the months of October, November, and December of 2011, including but not limited to intake or admission forms, veterinary notes or records, euthanasia technician notes or records, computer entries, and any and all other documentation pertaining to the euthanasia of, or disposal of the bodies of, animals admitted to or handled by the agency for the purpose of owner-requested euthanasia.

If your agency does not maintain these public records, please let me know who does and include the proper custodian’s name and address.

I agree to pay any reasonable copying and postage fees of not more than $250.00, which amount is enclosed. If the cost would be greater than this amount, please notify me. Please provide a receipt indicating the charges for each document.

As provided by the open records law, I will expect your response within five (5) business days. See Mich. Comp. Laws Sec. 15.235(5)(2). The response can be made via email at XXXXXX, or via US Mail at the address below, at your convenience.

If you choose to deny this request, please provide a written explanation for the denial including a reference to the specific statutory exemption(s) upon which you rely. Also, please provide all segregable portions of otherwise exempt material.

Please be advised that I am prepared to pursue whatever legal remedy necessary to obtain access to the requested records. I would note that arbitrary and capricious violation of the open records law can result in punitive damages of up to $500 and the award of reasonable attorney fees, costs and disbursements. See Mich. Comp. Laws Sec. 15.240(10)(6-7).

Thank you for your assistance.

Sincerely,

Christie Keith
XXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXXXX

Cc: XXXXX
XXXXX Law Offices

Another sample FOIA request from a NC shelter pet advocate.  This one was also based on the letter created by the FOIA generator at the Student Press Law Center and again, I have redacted some info:

Dear XXXXX,

Pursuant to the state open records law, N.C. Gen. Stat. Secs. 132-1 to 132-10, I write to request access to and a copy of:

  • Any and all contracts between XXXX County and any dealers or biological supply companies (including but not limited to XXXXX or XXXXX) for the sale of dead or live animals from the XXXXX County animal shelter.
  • Receipts for the sale of any dead or live animals from the XXXX County animal shelter from Jan. 1, 2012, to the present (date this request is fulfilled).

If your agency does not maintain these public records, please let me know who does and include the proper custodian’s name and contact information.

I prefer to receive electronic files, such as PDF, which may be emailed to me at: XXXXXXXXXXXX. However, if paper format is the only way the records can be made available to me, I agree to pay any reasonable copying and postage fees of not more than $15.00. If the cost would be greater than this amount, please notify me. Please provide a receipt indicating the charges for each document.

I would request your response within ten (10) business days.

If you choose to deny this request, please provide a written explanation for the denial including a reference to the specific statutory exemption(s) upon which you rely. Also, please provide all segregable portions of otherwise exempt material.

Please be advised that I am prepared to pursue whatever legal remedy necessary to obtain access to the requested records. I would note that violation of the open records law can result in the award of reasonable attorney fees, for which you may be held personally liable. See N.C. Gen. Stat. Sec. 132-9(c).
Thank you for your assistance.

Sincerely,

XXXXXXXXXX

The last sample request is a much less formal one.  I use it regularly and have had good results:

Under the [state open records law], I am requesting the records (intake form, impounding animal control officer notes, photos, front and back of cage card, veterinary notes, behavioral assessment form, rescue information, disposition form including reason for euthanasia if applicable, and any and all other related documents) for animal ID #XXXXXXXXXX at the [name of pound]. I request these records be sent to me in digital format.

For more information:

  • Forcing Transparency:  pdf by Kate Neiswender on “using state public records and Freedom of Information laws to get records and statistics from animal shelters”
Next Post
Leave a comment

16 Comments

  1. As an attorney I have made many successful open record requests. It is very ill advised to include any amount of money up front or even to state what you will or won’t pay. What is advised is to ask for the documents in electronic format and to be emailed. The agencies will charge little if any for that if readily available and even if they must utilize some person power to find them they can only charge an hourly rate at the lowest possible employee rate. In addition you can ask to come in and inspect those records in person and make your own copies ( I suggest using a camera or your camera on your phone). Let the party you are requesting of tell you what the amounts will be (this is statutory anyway) and you can negotiate or even contest them to the state AG. You can also use your ORR to serve as interrogatories and find out more than what the documents may contain especially if there are no documents, if crafted well. I will put up an example or two at my website shortly.

    Reply
    • You are the most annoying commenter I can recall in awhile. And it takes a lot to get me to the point of saying that.

      Reply
      • I found the comments from Pet Advocates interesting. I think the local Shelter purposely doesn’t create documents so there is no paper trail. Or they destroy the paperwork after they are done with it so they don’t have to produce it. I would love to know how to craft ORR to garner information that doesn’t exist in a document. Could be very useful!

      • For me, it’s a case of “the last straw”. Your mileage may vary.

      • Sorry you are having a bad day. I had one too. After hundreds of dollars spent vet is thinking one of my four pups may have cancer. He is only 7 and a tiny dach. A few people emailed me to tell me about this comment and I debated answering it but decided it bothered me, was unjust and I should.
        I assist almost everyone that asks with advocacy, rescue, transport, fostering etc. on a pro bono basis and donate. I have been instrumental in successful reform efforts and served on animal welfare boards. Due to those efforts I have been invited to serve on a county’s Animal Control Commission where I hope to serve the animals well. I worked with national advocates and authored the Georgia Animal Rescue Act introduced in the 2011 GA Assembly. The above was tried and true sound advice that will save advocates time and money. Successful endeavors are borne from learning from others successes and failures. I share my experience with both and similarly learn from others. I am sure you can find some breeders, killing apologists, or pro killers a tad more annoying than someone that spends most of their time trying to save animals. I have had to battle some community no kill haters but I guess I never expected this “friendly fire”. I know this is your blog and you are all powerful in it, but I think I deserve an apology.

    • I agree with Pet Advocate. I’ve done a lot of public information requests and I would never, ever send the money up front without knowing “if” they have records or the volume. I would certainly not send $250 up front. Many times, “shelters” have told me that they do not have records responsive to my requests. Sometimes, there may only be a few pages, in which case it costs only a few cents. Sometimes, they’ve just given me the records for free if it is a small amount.

      When I do a request, I always wait for their estimate of copying charges before sending any money. If an estimate ended up in the $250 range, I would ask to view the records first before asking them to copy anything, or ask to copy them myself.

      Since most of us operate on shoestring budgets,I think this is a more cost effective way to proceed.

      Reply
      • That was my FOIA… that was for a particular shelter that I’d already established had what I wanted, and for which I was given funds by another group. I thought Shirley was going to “de-specify” the FOIA.

        Normally I don’t send money, and I ask them to contact me first if it will exceed $25.

      • Sorry, I thought I had removed all the specifics you requested. But thank you for clarifying.

        On Tue, Feb 26, 2013 at 11:16 AM, YesBiscuit!

      • Thanks for the clarification, Christie. That’s what I do too.

        In Texas, I believe the statute says that they are to contact us if it will exceed $40. Most of the time it doesn’t cost this much. However, one high kill animal control first told me that they had no responsive records. Then, after I filed an appeal with the AG, they suddenly found about $3,500 worth of records. Obviously, both were attempts to weazel their way out of giving me the records I wanted.

  2. Thanks Shirley, I know you are very successful getting records from shelters and this is the biggest thing I am currently failing at in San Diego so this is very helpful. In fact I was going to email this week you and ask you to list some samples. Much appreciated!

    Reply
  3. Tanya Borg

     /  February 8, 2013

    I’ve been told, in Wisconsin, that our county designated shelter, who is a private non-profit does not have to follow open records laws as they only receive a portion of their financing from state mandated dog licensing laws. I thought if an organization receives any public funding they are required to make statistics public. Does anyone know where I can confirm this?

    Reply
    • If a shelter receives govt funding for animal control services, then I believe that they are required to produce records that they have in connection with those services since they are publically funded services.

      Have you located your state’s public information statute and read it to see if there is any information there?

      In Texas, there is also a companion “explanation” booklet which helps to explain the statute. I believe I found it posted on the Attorney General’s website. You might check your AG’s website.

      Reply
  4. Thank you, Shirley (and Christie) for sharing this information!

    FOIA requests are one of the few tools animal advocates have when challenging large government agencies. I’ve only done a handful so far, but there are many more on the way!

    Reply
  1. What is your county’s “rabies alert area” policy? | FixNC
  2. JAVMA Letter: A Trojan Horse » Vox Felina – Feral/free-roaming cats and trap-neuter-return/TNR: critiquing the opposition

Speak!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 921 other followers

%d bloggers like this: