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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

PAC Issues Binding Opinion Regarding Medical Provider Records

The PAC recently issued a new binding opinion (PAC Op. 20-006) finding that the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) improperly denied a FOIA request that sought copies of aggregate data on head injuries incurred by inmates in IDOC custody and policies for evaluating head injuries of IDOC inmates and employees. IDOC had denied possessing or maintaining any policies or aggregate data responsive to the request. IDOT acknowledged that its healthcare vendor, Wexford Health Sources, might possess responsive records but argued that Wexford’s policies were confidential and proprietary business documents that are exempt from FOIA disclosure by FOIA exemption 7(1)(g). The requester appealed IDOC’s denial with the PAC. 

Since IDOC contracted with Wexford to provide medical service to inmates, the PAC concluded that responsive aggregate data and policies in Wexford's possession that directly relate to providing medical care to IDOC inmates on IDOC’s behalf are considered public records subject to disclosure under FOIA. Specifically, FOIA states that public records possessed by a party with whom a public body has contracted to perform a governmental function on behalf of the public body, and that directly relate to the governmental function, are considered public records under FOIA. Relying on prior federal and state cases, the PAC determined that both types of records sought by the FOIA request directly relate to the governmental function of providing medical care for inmates. The PAC explained that the “direct relation” requirement helps ensure that parties can only access those records of private contractors that are truly related to its exercise of a governmental function on behalf of a public body, rather than records that are only incidentally or tangentially related to a contract with a public body. Indeed, the PAC highlighted that the purpose of FOIA is to ensure that governmental entities are not permitted to avoid their disclosure obligations under FOIA by contractually delegating their responsibility to a private entity.

The PAC also concluded that IDOC improperly rejected the sought records under FOIA section 7(1)(g) (the trade secret exemption). The PAC noted that IDOC failed to specifically prove that the responsive records constitute a “trade secret, commercial or financial information” and failed to demonstrate that disclosing these records would cause competitive harm. As a result, the PAC concluded that IDOC failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that any responsive records in Wexford’s physical custody were exempt under FOIA exemption 7(1)(g). 

Post Authored by Eugene Bolotnikov, Ancel Glink


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