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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Public Body Did Not Waive Ability to Redact Records in FOIA Case

In a recent court ruling, the First District Appellate Court concluded that the Schaumburg Police Department did not waive its right to redact accident reports in response to a FOIA request even though the Department had previously provided unredacted copies of the same reports to a third-party vendor in order to comply with the Department's mandatory reporting obligations under the Vehicle Code. Mancini Law Group, P.C. v. Schaumburg Police Dep't,

Mancini Law Group, P.C. had sent a FOIA request to the Department seeking certain 2017 motor vehicle traffic accident reports. After the Village responded to the request by producing redacted accident reports, Mancini sued the Department, claiming the Department improperly redacted non-exempt information under FOIA, and alternatively, even if the Department’s redactions were proper, the Department waived its ability to assert FOIA exemptions because the Department previously provided unredacted accident reports to LexisNexis. The circuit court held that the Department’s redactions were proper and that the Department did not waive its right to redact the reports in response to Mancini’s FOIA request because the Department only provided unredacted accident reports under a contract with LexisNexis, an approved third-party vendor for the State of Illinois, as part of the Department’s mandatory reporting requirements under section 408 of the Illinois Vehicle Code. That statute requires the Department to file motor vehicle accident reports with the Secretary of State and the Department of Transportation. Mancini then appealed to the First District Appellate Court, which affirmed the circuit court’s judgement.

On appeal, Mancini argued that the Department’s voluntary disclosure of unredacted accident reports in one situation precluded the Department from withholding the same reports in response to Mancini’s FOIA request. Mancini relied on an Illinois Supreme Court's ruling that endorsed federal cases holding that “selective disclosure” by public bodies is offensive to the purposes of FOIA and intolerable as a matter of policy because “preferential treatment of persons or interest groups fosters precisely the distrust of government the FOIA was intended to obviate.” However, since LexisNexis was acting as the Department’s agent to help the Department fulfill its statutory reporting requirements, the appellate court concluded that the Department’s efforts to comply with a statutory reporting requirement were not comparable to the  “selective disclosure,” or “preferred treatment” condemned by the Illinois Supreme Court.

The appellate court also rejected Mancini claim that LexisNexis sells the Department’s unredacted reports for a fee to the public without restrictions, observing that only people providing specific information can purchase unredacted accident reports—either by being involved in the accident, representing someone involved in the accident, or being an insurance company identified as insuring someone involved in the accident.

Post Authored by Eugene Bolotnikov, Ancel Glink


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