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Monday, February 17, 2014

Court Dismisses Challenge to FOIA Fees and Response Time

In an unpublished decision, an Illinois appellate court dismissed a case challenging the legality of FOIA fees charged by the Illinois Department of Correction, and the timeliness of IDOC's response to the FOIA request.  Shehadeh v. IDOC, 2014 IL App (5th) 120523-U.

In this case, an inmate had filed a FOIA request with IDOC for various public records.  He was charged $.15/page for the documents, and filed a subsequent FOIA request for "records that indicate how much the IDOC pays for paper and toner for the copy machine used to fill FOIA requests."  That FOIA request was dated February 20, 2012.  He received a response from IDOC on March 5, 2012, (dated February 24, 2012), stating that IDOC's cost for reproducing records in response to FOIA requests was approximately $.007 per page.  Shortly after receiving IDOC's response, the inmate filed a lawsuit with the circuit court alleging that IDOC's response was untimely in violation of FOIA and that IDOC's fee of $.15/page was unreasonable.  The circuit court dismissed his case, and he appealed.  

On appeal, the appellate court first determined that FOIA allows a public body to charge a fee "reasonably calculated to reimburse its actual cost for reproducing and certifying public records," which fee "shall not exceed 15 cents per page."  According to the court, IDOC's fee of 15 cents per page was "plainly reasonable and permissible under the plain language of section 6(b) of the FOIA."  

Second, the appellate court held that IDOC responded to the FOIA request within the five business day time frame required by FOIA.  The request was submitted on February 20th, and IDOC's response was dated just 4 days later, on February 24th.  The court noted that nothing in FOIA requires receipt of the response within five business days, nor does FOIA require a public body to use U.S. mail to respond to a FOIA request.  In sum, the inmate's complaint was properly dismissed for failure to state a cause of action upon which relief could be granted.

This case provides some good guidance to public bodies on complying with FOIA requests.  First, the court upheld the 15 cent fee/page, even though that fee exceeded the actual costs for reproduction.  Second, the court made it clear that FOIA does not require responses to be received within five business days, nor does FOIA dictate the manner in which responses must be sent to a requester.

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink


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