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Wednesday, February 6, 2019

FOIA Requires Release of Records Not in Possession of Public Body

A recent Illinois Appellate Court case reiterated the need for a public body to obtain records from agencies with which it contracts to perform governmental duties under FOIA. 

In Rushton v. Department of Corrections, Rushton and the Illinois Times filed a FOIA request with the Department of Corrections asking for a copy of a settlement agreement regarding a prisoner who allegedly died from inadequate medical care.  Wexford, a company that provides health services to prisoners in the Department, had entered into a confidential settlement agreement with the estate of the prisoner. Upon receipt of the FOIA request, the DOC asked Wexford for an unredacted copy of the Agreement, but Wexford refused to release it. Wexford later provided a redacted copy of the settlement agreement to the FOIA requesters and the DOC.  The requesters then filed a complaint against the DOC asking that it release a copy of the unredacted settlement agreement.  Wexford then intervened in the lawsuit and argued that the DOC did not have an unredacted version of the settlement agreement and that the agreement was not a public record under FOIA.  The trial court agreed with Wexford, finding that the settlement agreement did not “directly relate” to a governmental function.

On appeal, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed, finding that the settlement agreement “directly related” to a governmental function. The Court cited Section 7(2) of FOIA, which provides as follows: 
A public record that is not in the possession of a public body but is in the possession of a party with whom the agency has contracted to perform a governmental function on behalf of the public body, and that directly relates to the governmental function and is not otherwise exempt under this Act, shall be considered a public record of the public body, for purposes of this Act.   
The Court found that the agreement “directly related” to a governmental function because Wexford performed a governmental function when it contracted with the DOC to perform medical services.  The Court reasoned that the agreement involved a governmental function because it involved a claim arising out of the DOC's rendering of medical care.  The Court remanded the case to the trial court to consider whether any partial redactions would be appropriate.

Post Authored by Erin Pell, Ancel Glink


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