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Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Court Overturns Civil Penalty Award in FOIA Case

In Peery v. Madison Cty. State's Attorney's Office, an Illinois Appellate Court overturned an order that imposed civil penalties against a public body under FOIA for failing to disclose certain misplaced records because the evidence did not suggest the records were withheld intentionally, willfully, or otherwise in bad faith.

This case arose from four separate FOIA requests submitted to the Madison County State's Attorney's Office (SAO) in 2016. The SAO provided certain records, but redacted some of them based on applicable FOIA exemptions. The requester then sued the SAO, claiming the SAO violated FOIA in responding to his four FOIA requests. The court determined that the SAO ultimately did comply with FOIA in responding to the requests, but nevertheless awarded civil penalties of $2,500 to the requestor after determining that the SAO willfully and intentionally failed to comply with FOIA, or otherwise acted in bad faith, when it initially misplaced certain responsive records. The SAO appealed, arguing that the trial court erroneously awarded civil penalties to the requester because the evidence did not support a finding of a willful, intentional, or bad faith violation of FOIA. 

On appeal, the Appellate Court determined there was no evidence that the SAO intentionally withheld letters, and once the SAO located the misplaced records, it immediately released the misplaced documents to the requestor, demonstrating good faith effort on the SAO's part to comply with FOIA. As a result, the Appellate Court overturned the award of civil penalties to the requester.

Post Authored by Eugene Bolotnikov, Ancel Glink


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