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Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Court Analyzes Subsidiary Body Factors Under FOIA

In 2014, the Better Government Association (BGA) made FOIA requests to the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA) and Navy Pier, Inc. (NPI) seeking records relating to the operation of Navy Pier. While MPEA supplied some responsive records and indicated that certain other responsive records did not exist, NPI denied the request entirely claiming that it was not a public body subject to FOIA. The BGA sued MPEA and NPI, alleging FOIA violations. The trial court held that MPEA was required to produce public records in NPI’s possession that related to its services to MPEA because NPI performed a governmental function on the MPEA's behalf and the records requested directly related to that governmental function under FOIA section 7(2). However, the trial court determined that NPI was not a subsidiary public body of MPEA, so it was not directly subject to FOIA. 

On appeal, the appellate court agreed with the trial court in Better Gov't Ass'n v. Metro. Pier & Exposition Auth. & Navy Pier.

First, the appellate court determined that because NPI fulfills the duties the state legislature assigned by statute to the MPEA concerning Navy Pier, and the NPI records at issue directly related to NPI’s performance of a governmental function of behalf of MPEA, NPI performs a governmental function on behalf of MPEA. That means that MPEA was required to disclose the requested records directly related to that governmental function in NPI’s possession, and the appellate court ruled in favor of BGA on this particular argument. 

However, the appellate court rejected BGA's argument that NPI was a subsidiary body under FOIA that would require NPI to comply with FOIA as a general rule. The appellate court applied the four factors established by the Illinois Supreme Court case for determining when a particular entity was considered a "subsidiary body" that would be subject to FOIA. Here, the appellate court concluded that NPI was not a subsidiary body of MPEA. Specifically, the appellate court determined that NPI was a formally independent corporation with a separate legal identity from MPEA and MPEA did not maintain operational control over NPI. Also, since most of NPI's funds for daily operations were raised without MPEA's assistance and MPEA’s capital contributions primarily improved the value of MPEA’s property and did not fund NPI’s operations, MPEA’s contributions were not construed as publicly funding NPI. Additionally, while NPI performs a governmental function on the MPEA's behalf, that factor alone does not outweigh the other factors indicating that NPI did not operate as a subsidiary of MPEA. Contrary to BGA’s argument, whether NPI asserted tort immunity in past lawsuits does not amount to an admission regarding NPI being subject to governmental control by MPEA. 

Post Authored by Eugene Bolotnikov, Ancel Glink


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