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Thursday, September 29, 2022

Illinois Supreme Court Rules in Public Body's Favor in FOIA Case Involving Lawful Injunction

In a prior post, we wrote about a November 2015 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, the requester filed a lawsuit seeking an order directing CPD to release the requested files. In response, CPD argued that because a May 2015 injunction entered by another court prohibited CPD from releasing any CR files older than four years from the date of any FOIA request, CPD did not improperly withhold the responsive CR records. That injunction was later vacated in 2016. 

In 2020, a circuit court ruled in favor of the requester and ordered CPD to turn over all responsive CR files from 1967 to 2011. The appellate court reversed, finding that the circuit court improperly ordered CPD to produce the CR files, because CPD was required to follow the terms of a lawful injunction that prohibited releasing the CR files subject to the injunction. The appellate court also 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.

The requester subsequently appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court. In Green v. CPD, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the appellate court’s ruling in favor of CPD, finding that the appropriate time to determine whether a public record may be withheld is when the public body asserts the exemption and denies the request (“time-of-request” approach). The Court rejected the requester’s “changed circumstances” argument, explaining that accounting for changed circumstances that occur during litigation would require a public body to continually monitor the information and revise its responses. The Court held that this approach could undermine FOIA’s goal of producing public information expediently and efficiently and lead to the absurd result of burdening the public body with the requester’s attorney fees even if the denial was proper when the agency made its decision.

Post Authored by Eugene Bolotnikov, Ancel Glink


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