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Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Court Dismisses FOIA Lawsuit as "Moot" Where Records Were Ultimately Provided

A requestor submitted a FOIA request to a municipality seeking all approved sales tax sharing agreements/settlements approved within the past 30 days. The City initially denied the request, stating it had no responsive records because there had been no agreements approved in the preceding 30 days or the agreements were not yet signed by all parties. The requestor then sued the City claiming it had violated FOIA. However, after the lawsuit was filed, the City provided the requestor with two signed agreements responsive to the FOIA request. Several months later, the City also provided the requestor with three more documents responsive to the FOIA request. Then the City filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit as moot because the requestor had since received all documents responsive to the request. The trial court dismissed the case and the requestor appealed, claiming that (1) the lawsuit was not moot, and (2) the City should have been ordered to pay the requestor's attorneys fees and assessed civil penalties.

On appeal, the Appellate Court in Kraft v. City of Kankakee upheld the dismissal of the lawsuit. Specifically, the Appellate Court declared that once the requestor received all documents responsive to the request, the controversy ceased to exist and the requestor’s claim was moot. 

The Appellate Court also determined that the requestor was not a “prevailing party" in the FOIA lawsuit since the City had provided all requested documents to the requestor without a court order. As a result, the requestor was not entitled to attorney fees and costs.

Finally, the Appellate Court rejected the requestor’s claim for civil penalties under FOIA because the requestor failed to demonstrate that the City willfully, intentionally, and in bad faith failed to comply with FOIA. Because the FOIA request had sought approved agreements/settlements, the City did not improperly deny the request when it first responded that it had no responsive records, because at the time the request was submitted, the City’s responsive agreements/settlements had not yet been signed or executed. The Court noted that "a plaintiff cannot maintain a cause of action under FOIA where the records sought did not exist at the time of the FOIA request."

Post Authored by Eugene Bolotnikov, Ancel Glink


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