Updates on cases, laws, and other topics of interest to local governments

Subscribe by Email

Enter your Email:
Preview | Powered by FeedBlitz

Subscribe in a Reader

Follow Municipal Minute on Twitter


Blog comments do not reflect the views or opinions of the Author or Ancel Glink. Some of the content may be considered attorney advertising material under the applicable rules of certain states. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Please read our full disclaimer

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Court Denies Civil Penalties Request in FOIA Case

An Illinois appellate court recently issued a ruling denying an individual's request for civil penalties under the Freedom of Information Act. Boggan v. FOIA Office of the Department of Corrections, 2020 IL App (4th) 190347-U

In 2016, an inmate at the Dixon Correctional Center filed a FOIA request with the DCC seeking records related to the source and quality of water at the DCC. The DCC responded that it did not possess responsive records, and the inmate filed a request for review with the PAC. In 2017, the PAC issued an advisory opinion finding that DCC failed to conduct a reasonably diligent search, including where and how the records are maintained, and the specific measures the DCC’s chief engineer took to search for those records. The advisory opinion asked the DCC to conduct a renewed search and issue a supplemental response to the requestor. The inmate subsequently filed a lawsuit against DCC in November 2017, after he had not yet received the records, asking the court to order DCC to provide responsive records and impose civil penalties against DCC for acting in bad faith by willfully and intentionally failing to comply with his request. Although the circuit court ordered DCC to provide the records, the court did not impose any civil penalties on DCC. 

On appeal, the appellate court upheld the circuit court’s denial of civil penalties, finding that civil penalties are not available under FOIA for the review of a PAC advisory opinion. The appellate court noted that only a public body’s failure to comply with a binding opinion, rather than an advisory opinion like the one at issue, leads to a rebuttable presumption that a public body willfully and intentionally failed to comply with FOIA. Since the circuit court found that the DCC did not willfully and intentionally fail to comply with the request, the appellate court reasoned that civil penalties against the DCC were unwarranted. Instead of implying bad faith on the part of the DCC, the PAC’s advisory opinion merely found that DCC failed to sufficiently explain its search and expressed concern with the narrowness of the search. Additionally, the court found that DCC replied each time the PAC asked it to do so, except in response to the PAC’s advisory letter. Also, the records DCC eventually produced in August 2018 were created after the inmate’s January 2016 FOIA request, so the records were unavailable at the time of petitioner's initial FOIA request. Based on these facts, the appellate court found that the trial court did not erroneously rule that the DCC did not willfully and intentionally fail to comply with FOIA or otherwise act in bad faith.

Post Authored by Eugene Bolotnikov, Ancel Glink


Post a Comment