Delaware Department of Justice
Attorney General
Kathy Jennings

95-IB24 Louis A. Irion, Jr. – June 7, 1995 Freedom of Information Act Complaint

Del. Op. Atty. Gen. 95-IB24 (Del.A.G.), 1995 WL 794485
(observing that request for access to public records must describe documents sought with sufficient specificity so as to permit public body to locate the requested records)
120 Delaware Street
New Castle, DE 19720
Gerald P. Kavanaugh, Jr.
City Solicitor
Herlihy, Harker & Kavanaugh
1300 N. Market Street
Suite 400
Wilmington, DE 19899-1597
Re: Louis A. Irion, Jr. – June 7, 1995 Freedom of Information Act Complaint
Dear Gentleman:
This is the decision on the above-referenced Freedom of Information Act (the “Act”) complaint.
The operative facts are that on June 7, 1995, Louis A. Irion, Jr. (the “Complainant”) filed a complaint pursuant to 29 Del. C. § 10005(e) with this office. The Complainant sought the documents from the City of New Castle (the “City”) by written request on May 2, 1995 information on status of former public walkways taken for private use. (See, Exhibit “A”).
The Complainant stated that the City had failed to respond
to his request for information. The City was notified of the Complaint by letter dated June 22, 1995 and responded on July 18, 1995.1
The request was made on a “Mayor and Council of the City of New Castle request for Public Records under the Freedom of Information Act” form. Under “Specific Documents Requested,” the Complainant printed “Information on status of former public walkways taken for private use.” (Exhibit “A”). The request was not specific as to what walkways, or where the walkways were located in the corporate limits. While there is no Delaware case law on point, the federal Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C.A. § 550 is similar to the Delaware FOIA, and has been interpreted in several reported cases. These cases indicate that broad, sweeping requests lacking specificity are not permissible under the federal FOIA. See Marks v. Department of Justice, 578 F.2d 261, 263 (9th Cir. 1977); Mason v. Callaway, 554 F.2d 129 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 434 U/S. 877, reh. denied, 434 U.S. 935 (1977). “It is the duty of the requester to frame the request with sufficient specificity so that it is not excessively broad.” Hunt v. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, 484 F.Supp. 47, 51 (D.D.C. 1979). Since the description of the documents sought was not sufficient to allow the City to locate such records, request lacks specificity.
The City has provided a copy of a legal opinion from its City Solicitor dated June 13, 1995 concerning four alleys in the area of the Strand. This document is identified as “Re: Complaints of Louis A. Irion regarding alleys on the Strand known as Alexander’s Alley, Appeal by Alley, and Alexander’s Alley” (sic) (Exhibit “B”). We enclose a copy of the same for Mr. Irion. Although this document was not created until approximately 40 days after Mr. Irion’s request, it contains, we believe, the relevant information sought in Complainants’ public records request.
For the foregoing reasons, no violation of the Act is found. In addition, since the respondents have filed records with the office in response to the records request, we also find the matter is moot. The Complainant’s appeal rights are contained in 29 Del. C. § 10005(e).
If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Very truly yours,
John K. Welch
Deputy Attorney General
John F. Brady
Deputy Attorney General
Michael J. Rich
State Solicitor

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