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Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Court Rules in Favor of Sheriff's Office in FOIA Lawsuit

In response to several FOIA requests asking for transcripts of conversations between Sheriff’s Office personnel and police dispatchers, a Sheriff’s Office released responsive records subject to applicable redactions. The requestor then sued, seeking a court order to compel the release of  records allegedly withheld from disclosure and to explain the FOIA exemptions used by the Sheriff’s Office to withhold or redact certain records. The lawsuit also asked the court to impose civil penalties against the Sheriff’s Office for allegedly willfully and intentionally failing to comply with the FOIA requests. 

After the lawsuit was filed, the Sheriff’s Office released additional records responsive to the requests, and explained the FOIA exemptions used to redact information. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit as moot since records had since been released and denied the request for civil penalties, finding that the Sheriff’s Office did not willfully or intentionally fail to comply with FOIA.

On appeal, the Illinois Appellate Court also ruled in favor of the Sheriff's Office. Harsy v. Perry County Sheriff’s Office. First, the Appellate Court agreed that the lawsuit was moot since the Sheriff’s Office had disclosed responsive records and properly cited exemptions to redact or withhold records. The Appellate Court also rejected the requester's "bad faith" argument since the Sheriff’s Office promptly issued refunds to the requestor for all claimed overcharges after the lawsuit was filed and failed to show the Sheriff's Office willfully or intentionally failed to comply with FOIA.

The Court also rejected the requestor’s argument that the trial court should have ordered the Sheriff’s Office to provide an index of redacted or withheld records, finding that because the requestor failed to request an index before the trial court’s in camera inspection, the necessity for an index after the circuit court’s in camera review was moot.

Post Authored by Eugene Bolotnikov, Ancel Glink


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