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The FOIA/PA for state and federal inmates and private citizens

Freedom of Information - Privacy Act explained

(Part 3 of a 4 Part Series)

By Philip John Fairchild, Prisoner of the Drug War

Step Three: The Lawsuit

After allowing the Office of Information and Privacy twenty (20) working days, it may be time to file suit. Filing a lawsuit against the requested agency is the only way to obtain the information that you are after. The Prison Litigation Reform Act has made filing suit come with a price tag. It now costs $150.00 to file your complaint, so obviously you have to be serious about what you want.

There is no getting around this, but if you do not have the money, you file in forma pauperis status with the court for a long-term payment schedule you can cope with. Then again, if you prevail in your lawsuit, the cost of filing will be remitted and paid by the agency that resisted you. This is true even if the agency immediately upon receiving notice of the suit releases the records you requested, thereby mooting the suit. Courts are aware of an agency's tactics of not releasing clearly disclosable records unless they are sued.

To discourage such an abuse of the FOIA by forcing citizens to the expense of filing suit to obtain the requested records the Courts have determined that agency release after suit is filed but prior to adjudication on the merits to be the legal equivalent of "prevailing" on the merits. In federal cases you can file in the United States District Court For The District Of Columbia, 333 Constitution Avenue, NW Washington, D.C. 20001. Or you can sue in the district of your choice. It is a wise and helpful move to send the Clerk of Courts a letter requesting the local rules and other paperwork you will require.

(Example NO. 3)

District Clerk xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxDecember 8, 1996
District of Columbia
U. S. Courthouse
333 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, D. C. 20001

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am requesting the following documents from your office:

 A copy of the local court rules governing civil actions.

  • A standard summons form.
  • Civil cover sheet(s).
  • A standard form for civil actions under 42 USC 1983.
  • Any special instructions regarding suits brought under 28 USC 1331.

Thank you for your prompt response.



(Name and Address)

For a downloadable copy of the entire FOIA/PA series in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) format CLICK HERE

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