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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


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