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Friday, April 9, 2021

Court Finds Injunction Relieved Public Body From Releasing Records Under FOIA

In 2015, Charles Green submitted a FOIA request to the Chicago Police Department seeking all closed complaint register files (CRs) for all Chicago police officers. After CPD failed to respond to the request, Green filed a lawsuit seeking an order directing CPD to release the requested files. However, the requester's lawsuit was continued, because an injunction entered by another court prohibited CPD from releasing any CR files that were older than four years from the date of any FOIA request. That injunction was later vacated in 2016. In 2020, the circuit court ruled in favor of the requester and ordered CPD to turn over all CR files dated from 1967 to 2011. CPD appealed the decision, arguing that the circuit court improperly ordered CPD to produce CR files that were subject to an injunction at the time that they were requested and that the court erroneously rejected CPD’s claim that producing 48 years of closed CR files would be unduly burdensome. 

On appeal, the appellate court in Green v. Chicago Police Department agreed with CPD that when CPD denied Mr. Green’s FOIA request for CR records in November 2015, it was required to follow the terms of a lawful injunction that prohibited CPD from releasing the records subject to the injunction. Further, the appellate court determined that it was irrelevant whether the injunction was subsequently vacated, because at the time CPD received the FOIA request, CPD was following a lawful injunction to avoid disclosing the CR records. Because the CPD received Mr. Green’s FOIA request for responsive CR records while an injunction was in place, the court concluded that CPD did not improperly withhold the records under FOIA. 

Because the court ruled in CPD's favor on the first issue, it did not address the second argument raised by CPD - that the court should have allowed CPD to raise an unduly burdensome claim as a defense in litigation even if it had not made that claim in response to the FOIA request. Public bodies should make sure they respond within the statutory time frame even if they intend to raise an unduly burdensome claim to avoid an argument that they waived that claim if the requester files a lawsuit. 

Post Authored by Eugene Bolotnikov, Ancel Glink


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