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Monday, February 27, 2023

Court Denies Award of Attorneys Fees and Civil Penalties in FOIA Challenge

A watchdog group filed suit against a township claiming the township violated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The group had requested a "copy of the hard drive contents" of a specified township computer. The township responded that because it did not have the capability in-house to copy the entire hard drive onto an external hard drive to release to the group, it had to outsource that job, and informed the group it would have to pay $350 for the outsourcing services and an external hard drive. 

The circuit court ruled in favor of the group on its FOIA challenge, and ordered the township to make copies of the documents that were on the hard drive and release those to the group. The court rejected the group's request for an award of attorneys fees and civil penalties, finding that the lawsuit was unnecessary because the group could have made a reasonable attempt to clarify that its request was for copies of documents and not a copy of the actual hard drive.

On appeal, the Appellate Court upheld the circuit court's ruling, agreeing that the group was not entitled to attorneys fees or civil penalties in this case. The Appellate Court noted that the township was willing to produce the records, and the group could have avoided unnecessary litigation and litigation expenses had it clarified to the township what it was actually requesting. As a result, the Appellate Court held that the township did not willfully, intentionally, and in bad faith fail to comply with FOIA so as to justify an award of attorneys fees or the imposition of civil penalties against the township. Edgar County Watchdogs v. Joliet Township


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