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”

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