The fact that a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request is burdensome, even very burdensome involving thousands of documents, does not relieve a public agency from its duty of responding to the request. As a case in point, consider complainant Steen DeBow who alleged that the Metro Hartford Information Services violated the FOIA by failing to comply with his request for records, which included all emails, letters and memos between and about two individuals who were employed with Metro Hartford.
An initial search, utilizing the names of the two employees as search terms, resulted in 72,000 emails, which were copied and forwarded to corporation counsel to determine if any of the emails were exempt from disclosure. A review of several of the CDs that contained the emails discovered that many of them contained confidential student information and none of them were responsive to Mr. DeBow’s request.
A second search which used only the first names of the two individuals found another 12,000 documents, including 3,700 records, other than emails. At its hearing before the Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC), the respondents argued that to manually review all of these documents was simply too burdensome. The FOIC rejected this argument, holding that the fact that a request is “burdensome” did not relive the respondents from their obligations to respond pursuant to the FOIA.
The FOIC in its ruling directed the respondents to resume its review of the identified documents and to provide free copies of any responsive, non-exempt records to the complainant. Given that the FOIC did not find the manual review of tens of thousands of documents to be overly burdensome, it is fair to speculate as to whether any FOIA request will ever be found to be overly burdensome by the FOIC.