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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

FOIA Case Dismissed as "Moot" & Sanctions Awarded to Public Body

In Garlick v. Bloomgindale Township, Garlick filed a FOIA request with the Bloomingdale Township, asking for the native format of an electronic copy of all publicly disclosable data within the Township’s  property assessment software system. The Township initially responded that the requested information could be accessed on its website. Garlick responded that he could only review the information one parcel at a time on the website, which was too laborious and asked the Township to reconsider.  The Township responded that responding to the request would constitute an undue burden.  

Garlick then sued the Township arguing that it failed to respond to his request and that he did not have reasonable access to the website to retrieve the data. The Township argued that copyright and proprietary claims prohibited release of the data in its native format but that the data could be provided in an Excel format, which the Township provided to Garlick. Garlick then asked the Township to provide the record in an “SQL Server database,” which the Township did. The Township then filed a motion to dismiss since the requested data had been provided to Garlick, which was granted by the court.

Subsequent to that case, Garlick sent a new FOIA request to the Township, seeking all publicly disclosable data within the Township’s CAMA property-assessment software system.  He asked for the data in its native file format, which he believed was an SQL server database. The Township responded by providing the data in a SQL Server format.  The plaintiff then responded that  the data was not received in the format it is maintained, and requested the data as it exists in the Township’s SQL Server database.  Garlick sued again, asking the court to order release of the data in his requested format and that the court impose civil penalties, fees, and costs on the Township.  

Two days later, the Township responded to plaintiff’s FOIA request, stating that although the data was exempt from disclosure because it is JRM’s proprietary, trade-secret, and copyright protected information, the Township provided the data to plaintiff as JRM had authorized release of the data to plaintiff.  The Township then filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the issue was moot since Garlick now had the data. The Township also sought an award of sanctions against Garlick for filing of a frivolous complaint.  The court agreed with the Township and dismissed the case finding that the complaint was moot and barred by collateral estoppel.  The court also agreed that the case was frivolous and awarded the Township sanctions over $31,000.  

This case and the high amount of sanctions awarded show the dangers of frivolous FOIA lawsuits and potential relief to public bodies.

Post Authored by Erin Pell, Ancel Glink


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