Robert Davis files FOIA lawsuit against Michigan Treasury

Robert Davis - via Youtube screenshot
via Youtube screenshot
Robert Davis

Robert Davis, a named plaintiff in many lawsuits, filed yet another on Monday in federal court, claiming he's being deprived of his right to obtain public records under Michigan law as an incarcerated individual.

In December, Davis — a litigious activist and former member of the Highland Park Board of Education — was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for corruption. His most recent issue with Michigan's public records law begins here. (Public records law can be a bore, but hang tight.)

According to his complaint, Davis filed a request on Feb. 9 with the Michigan Department of Treasury for public documents related to Kevyn Orr, the City of Detroit's former emergency manager. The treasury department's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) coordinator failed to respond by the cut-off date set under Michigan statute, the complaint says.

The following day, March 5, Davis called FOIA coordinator Carla Robert to demand a response to his request. It wasn't until the following week when Davis received his official response from the department.

The treasury department granted in part, and denied in part, Davis' request — and said he was required to pay at least $1,000 for a search to be conduced for any documents. 

Davis then self-reported to federal prison in Montgomery, Alabama to begin his 18-month sentence. Davis was accused of stealing $200,000 from the financially-struggling Highland Park schools and pleaded guilty last fall. 

A month into his sentence Davis mailed a letter to the department asking for his fees to be waived; in addition, he requested clarification as to whether he could receive public records as an incarcerated individual.

According to the state, he cannot. 

The Treasury department told Davis state law says "an individual serving a sentence of imprisonment ... in a federal correctional facility, is not covered under the FOIA as those who can invoke the statute." 

Davis sought clarification if he could still file suit, but has yet to receive a reply.

So the 36-year-old Davis, assuming Robert's response would be that he's prohibited from invoking FOIA, filed the most-recent complaint, saying it violates his First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances. Michigan's Freedom of Information Act provides any one who requests documents with the right to commence a civil lawsuit within 180 days of an official response.

"Robert fights for the rights of a lot of people and in this case he's fighting for his own right and other incarcerated individuals," said Andrew Paterson, a Novi-based attorney who's representing Davis. 

The complaint alleges that because Davis has successfully sued the department in the past for violations of public records and open meetings laws, FOIA coordinator Robert "purposely and intentionally [delayed] issuing a response" to his Feb. 9 request. 

"He filed it before he was incarcerated and [the Treasury Department] delayed past the five day response time and didn't extend it," Paterson said. 

Davis' complaint also names Sue Hall, a member of the Wayne County Airport Authority, as a defendant. He successfully sued the authority in 2011 for violating Michigan's open meetings laws, the complaint says, and later criticized Hall because "documents revealed [Hall] secretly negotiated the terms of Turkia Mullin's controversial severance agreement in secret and behind closed doors on behalf of the Wayne County Airport Authority Board."

The beef between Davis and Hall continued in June 2012, according to the complaint, when Davis was selected by his local union, AFSCME Concil 25, to represent it at Harvard University's Senior Executives in State and Local Government conference.

Coincidentally, Hall was also attended the conference.

When Davis introduced himself, he told the audience he has filed lawsuits that "exposed public corruption," the complaint says.

"Specifically, Plaintiff Davis pointed out that Defendant Hall was one of the public officials whose corruption he had exposed," the complaint says. 

Hall then shot back in her remarks, according to the complaint, saying Davis files "frivolous lawsuits." That, along with several other interactions, Davis asserts, meets the threshold of a First Amendment retaliation claim. 

The eight-count suit seeks damages in excess of $150,000, injunctive relief, and a declaratory judgment that Davis, as an incarcerated individual, can obtain public records under FOIA

Messages were left for attorneys representing Robert and Hall seeking comment.

Ryan Felton

Ryan Felton was born in 1990 and spent the majority of his childhood growing up in Livonia. In 2009, after a short stint at Eastern Michigan University, he moved to Detroit where he has remained ever since. After graduating from Wayne State University’s journalism program, he went on to work as a staff writer...
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