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Wednesday, March 3, 2021

FOIA Requester Not Entitled to Attorneys Fees or Civil Penalties

In 2015, an inmate filed a complaint against the Cook County State's Attorney's Office (SAO) claiming the SAO failed to comply with his FOIA request seeking records from five criminal cases in which he was convicted of various offenses. Shortly after the case was filed, the SAO provided the inmate with 2,867 pages of responsive records with applicable redactions based on FOIA exemptions. Nevertheless, the inmate claimed that because the SAO willfully and intentionally failed to comply with FOIA, the court should award fees, costs, and civil penalties. The SAO filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the motion for fees and penalties was "moot" because the inmate had already been provided with all responsive, non-exempt records. The trial court ruled in favor of the SAO, and the inmate appealed.

In Watson v. Foxx, the Illinois Appellate Court denied the inmate's request for fees, costs, and civil penalties, agreeing with the SAO that the inmate's appeal was "moot" because the inmate admitted to receiving the records he had requested. 

Even if the case were not moot, the court noted that since the inmate represented himself in the FOIA lawsuit, he would not be entitled to attorneys fees because as a pro se litigant, he did not incur any attorney fees. The court also held that the inmate was not entitled to civil penalties under FOIA section 11(j) because there were no facts suggesting that the SAO had willfully and intentionally failed to comply with FOIA or otherwise acted in bad faith in responding to the FOIA request. 

Post Authored by Eugene Bolotnikov, Ancel Glink


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