CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Government agencies can charge citizens an hourly fee for the time it takes to find public documents requested under the state’s Freedom of Information Act, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.
The Court’s 4-1 decision overturned a ruling by Kanawha County Circuit Court that said the city of Nitro could charge to photocopy documents, but could not charge $25 an hour for the time it takes to search for those documents.
The case began in 2012 when Richard and Lorinda Nease filed a FOIA request for copies of a city ordinance and complaints and other documents related to the ordinance.
The city responded, saying it was collecting the information.
The Neases never heard back and filed a second FOIA.
The city then told the Neases that they would have to pay $25 an hour for city workers to look for the information.
The Neases never paid, never got the documents and sued the city.
The state’s FOIA law says: “The public body may establish fees reasonably calculated to reimburse it for its actual cost in making reproductions of such records.”
Kanawha Circuit Judge Charlie King looked at the words “actual cost in making reproductions,” and concluded that the city could only charge for the cost of physically copying the documents.
The Supreme Court disagreed…