FOIA Advisor

Q&A: members-only sorority retreat

Kevin SchmidtComment

Q.  I belong to a sorority and we are having a members only retreat.  Do we need to be concerned with the FOIA?

A:  Unfortunately, your anonymous question did not identify the state in which your university is located or indicate whether your school is public or private.  Therefore, I cannot answer your question as fully as possible.  But you might take comfort in knowing that the federal Freedom of Information Act does not apply to the records of state, local, or private entities.  Further, unless your sorority or event is funded by a public university, state freedom of information laws should not provide public access to information about your sorority's retreat.  Nor do state freedom of information laws generally apply to the records of private entities.  I would note, however, that the Ohio Supreme Court recently decided that a private university's police records are subject to disclosure, a decision which the Student Press Law Center reported as follows: 

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in favor of a former student journalist Thursday, determining that police departments at private universities are public entities and must release records under the state’s open records law.

In a 4-3 decision, the Court ruled the Otterbein University Police Department can be compelled to produce public records because it employs sworn, state-certified police officers, who have the same arresting authority as municipal police or a county sheriff.

Read more here.