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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Court Finds In Favor of Board of Education in FOIA Challenge

In 2014, a former teacher, filed a pro se lawsuit against a Board of Education (Board), alleging various FOIA violations related to the former teacher's 30 FOIA requests, including that the Board withheld responsive documents and the Board failed to conduct a reasonably diligent search for records. The circuit court ruled in favor of the Board, finding it had properly responded to all 30 of the FOIA requests, provided nonexempt responsive records in its possession and custody, and did not deliberately withheld documents pertaining to the requester's requests.

On appeal, the Appellate Court in Elmore v. Bd. of Educ. upheld the circuit court’s ruling in favor of the Board. Specifically, the Appellate Court found that the former teacher failed to show that the Board’s search for responsive records to her requests was inadequate or that the Board cited improper exemptions to withhold certain records. The Appellate Court further found that the former teacher failed to prove that the Board withheld certain requested records in their entirety, finding that the Board’s affidavits and other evidence satisfied the Board’s burden to show that it produced responsive nonexempt records in its possession and custody. The Appellate Court also stated that the teacher's belief that a certain document must exist did not make it so.

Additionally, the Appellate Court determined that the Board properly withheld information about the racial breakdown of all Board hires from 2011 to 2013 pursuant to the personal privacy exemption of FOIA (section 7(1)(c)). Specifically, the affidavit from the Board’s FOIA officer demonstrated that the the requested group of new hires was so small (6 employees) that disclosing a summary of ethnicities would unavoidably lead to identifying individual employees, and releasing this information would, therefore, unreasonably invade the privacy interests of those employees. The Appellate Court noted that public employees have a reasonable expectation that their racial identification will remain private, and with such a small number of people involved, releasing only ethnicities could still lead to identifying individual employees, so this part of the plaintiff’s FOIA request was properly denied under the invasion of personal privacy exemption.

Post Authored by Eugene Bolotnikov, Ancel Glink


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