Updates on cases, laws, and other topics of interest to local governments

Subscribe by Email

Enter your Email:
Preview | Powered by FeedBlitz

Subscribe in a Reader

Follow Municipal Minute on Twitter


Blog comments do not reflect the views or opinions of the Author or Ancel Glink. Some of the content may be considered attorney advertising material under the applicable rules of certain states. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Please read our full disclaimer

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

City in Violation of FOIA for Redacting PINs

In its 9th binding opinion for 2018, the PAC found a public body in violation of FOIA for redacting the Parcel Identification Numbers (PINs) from records released in response to the FOIA request. PAC Op. 18-009.

A FOIA request was filed with a Chicago agency requesting records relating to variances granted under the City's shared housing ordinance. The request specifically asked that the records include the PINs for each parcel. The City responded to the FOIA by providing the requested records, but redacted the PINs, citing the "private information" exception under 7(1)(b) of FOIA. 

The requester appealed to the PAC, and the PAC ruled against the public body, rejecting its argument that the PINs for individual parcels are "unique identifiers" under 7(1)(b) of FOIA. The PAC noted that the phrase "unique identifier" is intended to apply to information about people (such as a social security number), and not information about property. The PAC also noted that PINs are publicly available information.  The PAC also rejected the City's argument that release of the PINs would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy under 7(1)(c) of FOIA. The PAC determined that the interest in release of information about homes that are used as vacation rentals in Chicago outweighed any interest in the property owners in keeping that information private.

Post authored by Julie Tappendorf

Monday, July 16, 2018

Zoning Lawsuit Bill Signed By Governor

We previously reported on HB 4711, which had passed both houses last month. That bill proposed to amend the municipal, county, and township zoning statutes to make it clear that the Adjoining Landowner Act does not provide a cause of action to individuals to sue the government to challenge zoning decisions unless the government is the owner of the property subject of the zoning challenge. You can read our previous post here

We wanted to update you to report that the Governor has signed this legislation into law as PA 100-595. The relevant language that was added to the municipal zoning statute is as follows:
Except in relation to municipality-owned property, this Section does not authorize any suit against a municipality or its officials for any act relating to the administration, enforcement, or implementation of this Division or any ordinance, resolution, or other regulation adopted pursuant to this Division.
There are a number of cases that had already held that the Adjoining Landowner Act does not provide a cause of action against the government (except as property owner), and this new law confirms that.

The legislation is effective June 29, 2018.

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf

Friday, July 13, 2018

Upcoming Webcast: Zoning Hearings

Webcast— Rules of the Game: A Framework for Fair & Effective Zoning Hearings

Don't miss this upcoming webcast hosted by the Planning and Law Division of the American Planning Association titled Rules of the Game: A Framework for Fair & Effective Zoning Hearings on Thursday, July 26, 2018 from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. EDT.  Register here

This webinar will cover the legal requirements for public hearings, including constitutional due process considerations, and provide tips on how to more effectively manage these hearings.  Speakers include Ancel Glink attorneys David Silverman and Kurt Asprooth.

Details are as follows:

July 26, 2018

1:00 – 2:30 PM Eastern (noon - 1:30 PM Central)

CM | 1.50 | Law
CLE 1.50 through Illinois State Bar

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Assessor Ordered to Release Assessment Records to Tribune

The Tribune filed a FOIA request with the Cook County Assessor's Office asking for records relating to the valuation of residential, commercial, and industrial property in Cook County for purposes of taxation. Specifically, the Tribune asked the assessor to produce the spreadsheets used in the assessment of commercial and industrial properties and also that it produce residential property valuation reports. The assessor’s office denied the FOIA request, citing the exemption under 7(1)(f) of FOIA. The assessor's office argued that the records were subject to the "deliberative process" exemption under FOIA. 

The trial court ruled in favor of the Tribune, finding that the requested documents “do not in any way reveal the subjective personal position or opinion of any individual in the [Assessor’s Office]” such that the preliminary records exemption would apply. The trial court further found that none of the documents revealed “any debate” or “deliberation,” but instead found that the documents “contain factual information and the results of the [Assessor’s Office’s] valuation which are not covered under the deliberative privilege.”

The assessor appealed, and the appellate court affirmed its ruling in Tribune v. Cook County Assessor's Office, 2018 IL App (1st) 170455. The appellate court went through the analysis of the "deliberative process" exemption. First, the court determined that the records were final, and not preliminary. Next, the court held that the records are not ones in which opinions are expressed or policies are actions are formulated - instead, the court found that the requested records were factual in nature, and consist of the results of the assessment process. The court stated the standard for applying the "deliberative process" exception as follows:
In order to qualify for the deliberative process exemption, a document must be both predecisional in the sense that it is actually antecedent to the adoption of an agency policy, and deliberative in the sense that it is actually related to the process by which policies are formulated....The policy reason for the deliberative process exemption is to encourage candid debates within agencies. The government is entitled to withhold documents that reflect the agency’s give-and-take leading up to its final decisions.
The court further stated that "[p]urely factual material must be disclosed under FOIA once a final decision has been made, unless the factual material is inextricably intertwined with the predecisional and deliberative discussions." Because the court found that the information requested by the Tribune is critical for the public to understand how they are being taxed, the court ordered the assessor to release the requested records to the Tribune. The court also upheld the trial court's award of the Tribune's attorneys' fees.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Public Body Violates FOIA in Not Responding to FOIA Requests

In its 6th binding opinion of 2018, the PAC found a public body in violation for failing to respond to a FOIA request. PAC Op. 18-006. The requester had filed three FOIA requests for various records including minutes and the recording of a personnel committee meeting, copies of the personnel handbook and policies for fire department personnel, and minutes of the monthly fire department meetings. According to the requester, the village failed to respond to any of these requests, and he filed a request for review with the PAC. The PAC found the public body in violation for failing to respond to the FOIA requests and for not cooperating with the PAC in the request for review process.

Monday, July 9, 2018

New Quorum Forum Podcast Released - Defending Police Actions

Ancel Glink released its fifth episode of its Quorum Forum podcast last week. In Episode 5, Ancel Glink litigation attorneys Tom DiCianni and Christy Michaelson discuss the challenges local governments face when defending allegations of police misconduct. Christy provides updates on police legislation, and Tom analyzes how technology and media attention affect the defense of high-profile police cases.

You can listen to Episode 5 (and all other episodes) here.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Public Body Violates FOIA In Denying "Repeated Request" For Same Records

It's been more than 3 months since the Illinois Attorney General PAC office issued a binding opinion, but the wait is over. In PAC Op. 18-007, the PAC found a public body in violation of FOIA for improperly denying a second FOIA request for the same records that had been requested in a previous FOIA request.

A requester filed a FOIA request with the Illinois Department of Corrections asking for records concerning the Illinois Impact Incarceration Program. IDOC provided some records, and provided a link to other records available on IDOC's website. Three months later, the requester filed a complaint with the PAC office. The PAC notified the requester that the complaint was too late (it wasn't filed within 60 days after the denial) but suggested to the requester that she file a second FOIA request, thus triggering a new 60 day appeal period.

Based on the PAC's advice, the requester filed a second request with IDOC asking for the same records. IDOC responded that section 3(g) does not require a public body to respond to repeated requests from the same person for the same records, and that it had conducted a search for the requested records and had provided the records it found through its search.

The PAC examined the language of 3(g) which allows a public body to deny subsequent requests for the same records submitted by the same person. The PAC determined that because IDOC did not provide sufficient support that it performed a thorough search and provided all relevant records in response to the first request, it could not deny the second request filed by the same person for the same records. 

It is unclear from reading this opinion how or in what manner IDOC failed to comply with FOIA. IDOC responded to the first request for records by either providing the responsive records or referring the requester to the website link where records could be found. When the second request was filed by the same person for the same records, IDOC denied it under 3(g) on the basis that IDOC had already responded to the same request and provided records previously. It appears that the PAC expects IDOC (and presumably all public bodies) to "prove a negative" - i.e., somehow establish to the PAC's satisfaction that the public body absolutely, positively, and without any doubt, has no other records responsive to the request beyond those that had been previously provided. I don't know how a public body can meet that standard, or why IDOC's initial response and provision of records to the requester wasn't enough. As for the PAC's advice to keep filing requests for the same information,  causing public bodies to repeatedly respond to requests for the same records? That's what section 3(g) was intended to avoid.

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf