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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Court Interprets 60-Day Time Limitation For Filing OMA Lawsuits

Recently, an Illinois Appellate Court applied the 60-day time limitation for filing a lawsuit alleging a violation of the Open Meetings Act (OMA) to dismiss two of three claims made a City Council. Better Government Association v. Chicago City Council.

In mid-June 2020, an organization filed a lawsuit alleging that the City Council violated the OMA when it hosted three teleconferences (one each in March, April, and May 2020) without providing public notice or allowing the public to access the meeting. The City Council argued that (1) the teleconferences were not “meetings” under the OMA, (2) the claims regarding the March and April teleconferences were barred by the OMA’s 60-day statute of limitations, and (3) the third claim was “moot” because a recording of the May teleconference was later released to the public. The circuit court ruled in favor of the City, finding that the first two claims were time-barred and that the third claim was moot.

On appeal, the Appellate Court agreed that the claims relating to the March and April teleconferences were barred by the OMA, which provides that a lawsuit alleging a violation of the statute must be initiated “prior to or within 60 days of the meeting alleged to be in violation of the Act . . . .” The OMA provides exceptions to the 60-day statute of limitations where the allegedly improper meeting is not discovered in enough time to file a claim or there are procedural delays in the Attorney General’s review of an alleged violation. The Court held that no exception applied to extend the statute of limitations because the organization was aware of the March and April meetings prior to the expiration of the 60-day limitations period but the lawsuit was not filed until after that deadline.

With respect to the third claim relating to the May teleconference, the Court found that it was filed within the 60-day period. Furthermore, the Appellate Court reversed the circuit court, finding that the third claim was not moot simply because a recording of that teleconference was later released. According to the opinion, the “released” audio of that call was a leaked recording which had not been authorized for release by the City Council. The Court explained: 

That an audio recording has made its way into public domain does not substitute for the City releasing the official audio (or minutes), especially since audio recordings as well as minutes can be altered, portions erased, or mutilated.

The Appellate Court sent the case back to the circuit court to determine whether the City Council violated the OMA with respect to the May teleconference.

Post Authored by Erin Monforti & Julie Tappendorf, Ancel Glink


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