When a government agency decides to get in the way of your investigation

When a government agency decides to get in the way of your investigation. Much attention has been focused on the Rowan County, KY clerk who is refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. This brings to mind an unfortunately regular occurrence that we, as licensed private investigators working on complex claims investigations and background checks, encounter with government agencies refusing to provide information or records that they are legally obligated to.

In some instances, the agency we are trying to work with is gigantic and the bureaucracy gets in the way. For instance, being located in metro-Detroit, we have had constant battles with the City of Detroit to try and get Freedom of Information Act requests answered. In instances like this, there is no one person getting in the way, and the carousel of “leaders” that we contact  appear not to care or lack the ability to respond. (Note: working with the City of Detroit is getting easier and they are much more efficient these days, the City of Chicago, not so much) This spring, our office received a response to a FOIA from Detroit 21 months after it was submitted! We also encounter the opposite where a smaller municipality elects not to cooperate for political reasons. In a case in 2014, we attempted to get records from a smaller city in Montana regarding a fire department call to a claimant’s residence. The city attorney turned out to be close friends with the plaintiff’s attorney and stoned walled us. In a separate instance, a City Attorney of another town said that if we did not disclose the nature of our investigation and who we were working for, which we cannot by law, he would never release this information and he would certainly find out through discovery if we sued for it.

For those of your who are familiar with FOIA law, you might ask, why not sue them? Well in most cases, our clients simply do not want us to take it that far. In others, the time, energy and cost to do so far outweighs the benefit the records may impart to the case. The really bad news is that these agencies and bureaucrats know this and the reality is that most of the time it works and the requester goes away. The salt in our wound is that sometimes our client does not appreciate this possibility and see the failure as bad investigators who don’t know what they are doing.