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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Appellate Court Upholds Dismissal of FOIA Lawsuit

A requestor submitted various FOIA requests to a Public Defender's Office, the States Attorney's Office, and the County Sheriff. The Public Defender’s Office denied the request, arguing that the Public Defender’s Office was not a public body subject to FOIA because it was part of the judiciary. The State’s Attorney’s Office (SAO) and County Sheriff (Sheriff) responded that they did not have responsive records or denied the requests as unduly burdensome and invited the requestor to narrow the burdensome requests. 

The requestor then sued the Public Defender’s Office, the SAO, and the Sheriff claiming that they violated FOIA by denying his requests. The trial court ruled in favor of the public bodies, dismissing the lawsuit.

After the requestor appealed, the Appellate Court upheld dismissal of the lawsuit in Gakuba v. Winnebago County Public Defender’s Office

First, the Appellate Court determined that FOIA does not apply to the Public Defender’s Office because it operates as part of the judiciary and does not qualify as a “public body” subject to FOIA. 

Second, the Appellate Court held that the SAO did not violate FOIA because it had submitted an affidavit stating it was unable to locate records responsive to the requestor’s first request after conducting a diligent search. The Court also determined that the SAO properly denied the requestor’s second request as unduly burdensome because the requestor failed to narrow his burdensome request after being provided an opportunity to do so.

Finally, although the Sheriff initially failed to timely respond to the requestor’s FOIA request, the Court determined that the requestor's claims against the Sheriff’s Office were moot because the Sheriff had subsequently produced all responsive records to the request.

Post Authored by Eugene Bolotnikov, Ancel Glink


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