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Thursday, February 7, 2019

Court Finds That City Conducted Reasonable Search for Records

In Sonya Blackman and Oily Thomas v. City of Chicago,  Requesters filed a FOIA request with the City of Chicago, seeking police records for an investigation of a homicide for which plaintiff Thomas was convicted.  The Chicago Police Department released the homicide file to plaintiffs in response.  Upon receipt, plaintiffs noticed that certain documents were missing based on the inventory ledge in the file.  Plaintiffs then requested the City provide an index under Section 11(e) of FOIA, and locate the missing document or provide blank forms if the originals could not be found.  The FOIA Officer attempted to locate the missing documents, but then informed plaintiffs that the documents could not be found.  The FOIA Officer provided plaintiffs with an index listing the documents provided and explaining any redactions.  Plaintiffs then filed a lawsuit, alleging that the City did not comply with FOIA by failing to provide an adequate index, failing to provide blank copies of missing forms, and failing to look for documents in good faith.  The trial court ruled in favor of the City, finding (1) that the allegations under 11(e) were moot as the City had responded with an index and (2) that the plaintiffs did not sufficiently challenge an affidavit by the City’s FOIA Officer certifying that she conducted a diligent search.

On appeal, the Appellate Court also ruled in the City's favor, noting that the City supported its argument with the affidavit of the FOIA Officer, but that plaintiff failed to file any counter-affidavit in response. Further, plaintiffs failed to show that a more diligent search would have yielded the missing records.  The Court noted that a public body is not required to recreate or reacquire a document no longer within its possession.

Post Authored by Erin Pell, Ancel Glink


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