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

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Court Rules in City's Favor in FOIA Challenge

An appellate court recent ruled in favor of a public body in a FOIA challenge in Sherrod v. City of Kankakee, 2020 IL App (3d) 190374-U. 

In 2016, an inmate (plaintiff) filed two FOIA requests with the City of Kankakee for records regarding the murder of a specific individual. After the City conducted a reasonably diligent search for records responsive to the request, the City provided responsive records in the City’s possession and custody, while denying portions of both requests for records the City was unable to locate during their searches. After the plaintiff filed a request for review with the PAC to appeal the City’s denial of certain records, the PAC issued a nonbinding letter requesting the City to provide a requested video in VHS format to the plaintiff, instead of the DVD format originally provided by the City. After the City did not provide the video in VHS format, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit, alleging that the City failed to conduct a reasonably diligent search for records responsive to his request and otherwise failed to properly respond to his FOIA requests. The circuit court dismissed the case, however, finding that the City provided all responsive records in its possession after conducting an adequate search under FOIA for the requested information. On appeal, and the appellate court affirmed the decision in favor of the City.

First, in considering whether the City conducted a reasonable search, the appellate court looked at whether the City's search was reasonably calculated to discover the requested documents and not whether it actually uncovered every existing document. In this case, the City submitted a detailed affidavit describing the locations where City personnel searched for responsive records and ultimately which records the City identified and failed to identify. The appellate court determined that the City’s affidavit demonstrated the City's compliance with its obligation to conduct a reasonably diligent search under FOIA. Moreover, the appellate court noted that the City’s affidavit describing the City’s exhaustive search for records should be accorded a presumption of good faith, which cannot be rebutted by the plaintiff’s purely speculative claims about the existence of other documents.

Next, since the only method available to the City for copying a responsive video was on a DVD because the City lacked the capability to copy the video into the requested VHS format, the appellate court found that the City properly responded to plaintiff's FOIA request when it provided the record in the DVD format. Importantly, the appellate court noted that the passage of time and technological advancements made it unfeasible for the City to copy the video in VHS format. Also, the City’s affidavit demonstrated that the City found an outside company that could copy a VHS video into DVD format, but the company was unable to copy a DVD into a VHS format. As a result, the appellate court determined that the City complied with FOIA by providing the plaintiff with the DVD copy available to the City.  

Also, since the City’s affidavit demonstrated that the City did not possess the requested enhanced FBI within the City’s possession, and because the plaintiff failed to file a counter-affidavit to rebut the City’s affidavit, the appellate court found that the City did not violate FOIA by denying plaintiff's request for items it did not possess. 

Post Authored by Eugene Bolotniko


Post a Comment