Updates on cases, laws, and other topics of interest to local governments

Subscribe by Email

Enter your Email:
Preview | Powered by FeedBlitz

Subscribe in a Reader

Follow Municipal Minute on Twitter


Blog comments do not reflect the views or opinions of the Author or Ancel Glink. Some of the content may be considered attorney advertising material under the applicable rules of certain states. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Please read our full disclaimer

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Court Finds No Bad Faith and Rejects Request for FOIA Civil Penalties

In 2014, Marvin Williams submitted a FOIA request to the Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s Office seeking certain grand jury records, including “no-bills” and “true bills” of indictment and the grand jury deliberations and votes regarding a criminal case involving Mr. Williams. The State’s Attorney’s Office denied the request, claiming the records were exempt under Section 7(1)(a) of FOIA, because the records were expressly prohibited from disclosure by a state law that governs the secrecy of grand jury proceedings and limits the disclosure of grand jury documents. Williams then sued the States Attorney’s Office, claiming they violated FOIA. The trial court ruled in favor of the States Attorney’s Office, and Williams appealed.

The appellate court ageed with the trial court except on one issue. The appellate court found that the States Attorney’s Office should disclose responsive “true bills” of indictment but with witnesses names redacted. 

After the State’s Attorney’s Office released the true bills to Williams, Williams asked the trial court to impose civil penalties against the State’s Attorney’s Office under FOIA section 11(j), which states: 

If the court determines that a public body willfully and intentionally failed to comply with this Act, or otherwise acted in bad faith, the court shall also impose upon the public body a civil penalty…” 5 ILCS 140/11(j). 

The court denied Williams request for statutory penalties, ruling that the States Attorney’s Office did not act in bad faith. In Williams v. Bruscato, the appellate court agreed with the trial court and rejected Williams' request for civil penalties. The appellate court found that Williams failed to prove that the States Attorney’s Office knew or had a reasonable belief that “true bills” of indictment were subject to disclosure, and that the State’s Attorney’s Office showed good faith in immediately releasing the true bills once the trial court ruled that they shoudl be released. Because Williams was unable to prove that the States Attorney’s Office willfully or intentionally failed to comply with FOIA, and did so ““deliberately, by design, and with a dishonest purpose,” the court rejected the petition for civil penalties against the States Attorney’s Office.

Importantly, the appellate court also rejected plaintiff’s interpretation of Section 11(j), noting that a "willful and intentional" failure to comply with the FOIA is not sanctionable unless that failure was itself in bad faith. So, according to the appellate court, a court should only impose a civil penalty where a public body willfully, intentionally, and in bad faith failed to comply with FOIA.

Post Authored by Eugene Bolotnikov


Post a Comment