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Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Appellate Court Addresses Prisoner FOIA Use

Last week, an Illinois appellate court upheld a circuit court's ruling that an inmate was not entitled to home addresses of other individuals under FOIA in an unpublished opinion.

In Serio v. Putnam Cnty. Sheriff’s Dept., Raymond Serio, an inmate of the Illinois Department of Corrections, sent two FOIA requests to the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department seeking specific information regarding individuals that had been booked into custody at the Putnam County jail. He asked for the name, age, full address, offense, date of arrest, and photos of each individual under Section 2.15(a) of FOIA. The Sheriff’s Department subsequently provided Serio the records he requested in part in response to both FOIA requests, but withheld the home addresses under Section 7(1)(b), which protects home addresses from release as "private information."

Serio sued, arguing that the Sheriff’s Department (1) willfully and intentionally failed to comply with his FOIA requests, (2) should be ordered to release the home addresses, and (3) should pay civil penalties and Serio’s costs of filing the lawsuit. The Sheriff’s Department reasserted its use of the "private information" exemption to bar disclosure of the addresses. The trial court ruled in favor of the Sheriff’s Department and denied Serio’s claim for relief. Serio appealed.

On appeal, Serio argued that the plain language of FOIA expressly provided for obtaining that information if it is included in arrest reports. This time, the Sheriff’s Department argued that Section 7(1)(e-10) of FOIA barred the disclosure. At the time of the trial court’s ruling, the exemption in Section 7(1)(e-10) had not yet been enacted.  This section exempts from FOIA the following:

  (e-10) Law enforcement records of other persons requested by a person committed to the Department of Corrections, Department of Human Services Division of Mental Health, or a county jail, including, but not limited to, arrest and booking records, mug shots, and crime scene photographs, except as these records may be relevant to the requester's current or potential case or claim.

The appellate court determined that the Sheriff’s Department’s use of this exemption was proper and that it could withhold the home addresses. The court reasoned that although Section 7(1)(e-10) became effective after the trial court ruling, it applied retroactively as the legislature did not expressly state otherwise, and because it was a procedural change to FOIA rather than a substantive change that would preclude Serio from exercising his rights under the statute. Finally, Serio failed to explain in both his complaint and FOIA requests how the information he requested was relevant to “his current or potential case or claim” as required by Section 7(1)(e-10).

Post Authored by Ashton Tunk & Julie Tappendorf


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