This template is for South Carolina citizens who seek to compel a South Carolina public body1 to turn over records requested under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), which is codified at S.C. Code Ann. § 30-4-10 (2013), et seq. The template provides an outline for complaints filed in South Carolina’s Court of Common Pleas, with areas for editing in brackets.
Filing a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas should be a last step to take when seeking documents under FOIA. A journalist or other citizen seeking documents should first take the following steps:
- Call or visit the South Carolina public body and ask for the information you are seeking. If your initial request is denied, ask to speak with a supervisor or to the agency head. A formal request may not be necessary.
- If your informal request proves unsuccessful, deliver to the South Carolina public body a written request that states with specificity the public records that you are requesting.2 You can mail, fax, or personally deliver your request to the South Carolina public body.
- Upon receiving your written request, the South Carolina public body has fifteen business days to notify you as to whether it will comply with the request and to provide its reasons for whatever decision it has made.3 If it fails to mail or deliver the written notification to you within the fifteen-day period, your request must be considered approved.4
- If the South Carolina public body agrees to make records available, it must provide a copy of the records, or give you the opportunity to inspect or copy the records in accordance with reasonable rules concerning time and place.5
Records must be furnished in a convenient and practical form and at the lowest possible cost to the person requesting the record.6 The South Carolina public body can charge only the actual cost of gathering and copying records in response to your request, and may not charge fees for examination and review to determine if the documents are subject to disclosure.7 Documents may be furnished without charge or at a reduced charge where the public body determines that waiver or reduction of the fee is in the public interest because furnishing the requested information can be considered as primarily benefiting the general public.8
If after taking the foregoing steps, you believe that the South Carolina public body violated FOIA by failing in whole or in part to make available the requested documents, you may file a complaint in the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas.9 Your complaint must be filed within one year following the date on which the alleged violation occurred,10 and can seek either a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, or both against the South Carolina public body.11
1 The “public bodies” subject to FOIA include not only state and local government departments, but also organizations and corporations that are supported in whole or in part by public funds. The term “public body” is defined in S.C. Code Ann. § 30-4-20(a).
2 S.C. Code Ann. § 30-4-30(c) (2013).
5 S.C. Code Ann. § 30-4-30(a).
6 S.C. Code Ann. § 30-4-30(b).
9 S.C. Code Ann. § 30-4-100. The FOIA instructs citizens to file suit in the South Carolina Circuit Court. The civil division of the South Carolina Circuit Court is called the Court of Common Pleas.