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Monday, April 1, 2024

Court Finds Categorical FOIA Request Unduly Burdensome

In response to a FOIA request seeking all communications between two municipal police chiefs, a City denied the request in its entirety for several reasons, including that the requested communications between the police chiefs were not “public records” ordinarily kept by the City, and because the FOIA request was unduly burdensome. After the requestors sued, the circuit court ruled in favor of the City, and the requestor appealed.

On appeal, an Illinois Appellate Court upheld the ruling in favor of the City in Shehadeh v. City of Taylorville. The Court held that the FOIA request was unduly burdensome because it asked for all communications between the two police chiefs, the requestor refused to narrow or clarify its "categorical request" to a more manageable proportion, and the City’s burden of complying with the request outweighed the public interest in disclosing the requested records.

The Court found persuasive an affidavit submitted by the City police chief’s stating that the City does not maintain copies of communications sent to or from the police chief’s personal electronic devices, and that the City would be required to obtain records not ordinarily maintained by the City and then review a large number of communications between two police chiefs to find responsive records.

The Appellate Court also characterized the FOIA request as a categorical "fishing expedition" that asked for records largely unnecessary to the requestor’s purpose, and the Court found that the requester had failed to show how disclosure of the requested records served the public interest.

Although the Court ruled in favor of the City, the Court did provide some "best practices" for public bodies relying on the "unduly burdensome" provision of FOIA. The Court noted that the City should have asked the requestor to narrow or clarify his FOIA request in its original response letter, and the City should have more clearly explained the City’s burden of complying with the FOIA request, including providing an estimate of the number of records, or the amount of time involved in obtaining, reviewing, and redacting the records responsive to the FOIA request. 

Because the Appellate Court found that the City properly denied the request as unduly burdensome, the Court declined to address whether the requested records were public records under FOIA.

Post Authored by Eugene Bolotnikov, Ancel Glink


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