How Do I Make a FOIA Request in SC?

In theory, South Carolina’s government works for us.

That’s why the SC Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) makes the records and meetings of public bodies, as well as information on arrests and convictions, open and available to the state’s citizens and to the news media.

If you want to see public records that are available under FOIA, you can send what is called a “FOIA request” to the government agency that has the records and, in most cases, they must turn over the documents.

If they don’t, you can sue them under FOIA to get the courts to order them to turn over the documents and to order them to pay your attorney fees if you are successful.

What Are Considered Public Records Under FOIA?

SC law defines “records” as any information that was “prepared, owned, used, in the possession of, or retained by a public body.” The physical form of the record is irrelevant – the law covers papers, photos, audio recordings, video, books, maps, and any other documentary material.

With some exceptions, it also includes arrest warrants, incident reports, supplemental incident reports, and arrest records.

What Is A Public Body for Purposes of FOIA?

SC law defines a public body as any entity that receives or spends public funds.

In addition to city, county, and state governmental agencies, police departments, jails, and prisons, this includes all non-profit organizations and chambers of commerce that are supported by public funds.

How Do I Make a FOIA Request in SC?

Before you make a formal request, call or visit the public body you’re interested in – they may be willing to just provide the information you want, or they may have a form that they want you to fill out.

If not, you will need to make your request in writing. There is no standard FOIA form, but here is a sample form that will do the job. The more specific your request is, the more likely you will get the information you are looking for at the lowest possible cost.

You can deliver the request in person, or you can mail, email, or fax it to the appropriate public body. Once you have made your written request, the agency has 10 business days to tell you whether it will release them. If the public body agrees to release the records, it has 30 days to deliver them. It is important to note that agencies will sometimes redact parts of the records before releasing them to you.

Can They Charge Me for a FOIA Request?

Yes. Public bodies can charge you for searching for, retrieving, and copying their records, but it must be a reasonable cost. Sometimes, some agencies will demand an exorbitant fee to provide the records – that’s a violation of FOIA and can be grounds for a lawsuit under FOIA.

For example, when it comes to making copies, the law says they cannot charge more than the prevailing commercial rate – in other words, they can’t charge more than a company like FedEx or Staples would charge. If the records are sent to you by email, the agency is not allowed to charge you for copies.

Are Any Public Records Exempt from FOIA?

Public bodies are not required to release the following records even when a formal FOIA request is made:

  • Documents relating to a pending investigation;
  • Confidential attorney communications;
  • Documents that would identify an informant;
  • Income tax returns; and
  • Certain bank transactions.

What If They Refuse to Release Non-Exempt Records?

If you request public records and are denied, you should 1) send follow-up letters or emails to document your request and their refusal (but not harassing); and 2) call your SC FOIA attorney.

In some cases, you can re-write your FOIA request to address the agencies concerns. But, if they still refuse to provide you with records that are subject to FOIA, we will file a lawsuit under SC’s FOIA law to force the public body to release the records and to pay your attorney’s fees.

SC Freedom of Information Lawyer in Columbia and Myrtle Beach

If a government agency is refusing to honor your FOIA request, call criminal defense attorney Lacey Thompson – we will review your FOIA request and file a lawsuit for you when appropriate. Call now at 843-444-6122 or send us a message online to find out what your options are.

One Response to “How Do I Make a FOIA Request in SC?

  • Great article, as usual.

    What if, like in my case, I proceed with the FOIA myself (I am not an attorney) and they refuse?

    Chaz

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