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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Study Finds Open-Records Cases on the Rise

(CN) - The number of lawsuits filed annually over public records requests reached an all-time high last year, according to a study published Wednesday.

Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, released the study as part of its FOIA Project, named after the Freedom of Information Act.

Nearly 500 FOIA lawsuits were filed in fiscal year 2015, according to TRAC's analysis. The 498 cases filed last year is an increase of 77 from the previous fiscal year. The 2015 fiscal year ran from Oct. 1, 2014, to Sept. 30, 2015.

During the last 15 years, the U.S. Justice Department has been the most frequent FOIA defendant, named in 1,239 of all 4,999 filings, TRAC says.

In the past two fiscal years, 919 FOIA cases were reportedly filed, which is a 54 percent increase over 595 cases in the first two years of President Barack Obama's administration.

By comparison, 562 FOIA lawsuits were filed during the final two fiscal years of President George W. Bush's administration, according to the study.

Wednesday's FOIA Project report presents its statistical findings in light of Obama's early transparency initiatives, noting that he sent a memo to department heads saying the public records law "should be administered with a clear presumption: in the face of doubt, openness prevails."

"Because of possible changes in public attitudes about the public's right to obtain government records, its willingness to challenge government's failure to provide transparency, as well as changes in the Freedom of Information law and case law, the increase in federal FOIA court filings does not necessarily mean that the current administration is more or less secretive than those of the past," the TRAC report states. "But the rising counts well may indicate that this administration has not lived up to the ambitious open government promises made when President Obama first came to the White House."

Data about public records lawsuits and interactive tools are available at FOIAProject.org.

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