The FOIA is a law, enacted on July 4, 1966, that gives citizens the right to access information from the federal government. It is described by many as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government. Under the FOIA, any person has a right, enforceable in court, to obtain access to federal agency records, except to the extent that such records are protected from public disclosure. The FOIA also requires that agencies automatically disclose certain information, including frequently requested records. As Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court have all recognized, the FOIA as a vital part of our democracy.
Pursuant to the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of government, it is declared to be the public policy of the State of Illinois that all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts and policies of those who represent them as public officials and public employees consistent with the terms of this Act. Such access is necessary to enable the people to fulfill their duties of discussing public issues fully and freely, making informed political judgments and monitoring government to ensure that it is being conducted in the public interest. - Illinois Freedom of Information Act, 5 ILCS 140/1.
If you would like information from a public body, you should begin by writing down a list of the records you wish to obtain. Then prepare a letter to that public body’s FOIA office including your name, address, the date. Also include a phone number so the public body can contact you with any questions. Describe the records you wish to obtain with sufficient detail so that the public body can find the requested records.
Public bodies cannot require the FOIA requests be on a specific form or in a specific format, only that requests be in writing. Public bodies must accept requests by mail, personal delivery, fax, e-mail, or any other means available to the public body. Public bodies are not required to accept oral requests for public records, but may do so if they wish.
The following is a list of court cases in Illinois with an impact on state FOIA that the Craven Law Office actively participated in.
Better Government Association v. Blagojecvich - FOIA action brought by a citizens group seeking disclosure of federal grand jury subpoenas served on the Governor's office. Citizens groups' summary judgment was granted by circuit court. The Appellate Court affirmed, holding that FOIA required Governor to disclose the subpoenas; federal law did not bar a private citizen from disclosing that he had been served with a federal grand jury subpoena and; federal criminal procedure rule on the secrecy of grand jury proceedings did not preempt the FOIA.
Brown v. Grosskopf - The State's Attorney brought declaratory judgment action seeking a determination as to whether the State's Attorney's office was a public body within the meaning of the FOIA. AG's motion to dismiss was granted by the circuit court. Appellate court affirmed.
Carbondale Convention Center Inc. v. City of Carbondale - Newspaper petitioned to intervene, pursuant to the FOIA, requesting that the gag order be vacated and requesting production of settlement agreement. Circuit court granted plaintiff's motion to dismiss. The Appellate Court reversed and remanded holding that the parties to the agreement failed to meet its burden of proof that exemptions in the Act applied to settlement documents.
Chicago Tribune Co. v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago - Newspaper filed injunction action against city board of education seeking student information under FOIA. The circuit court granted summary judgment for the newspaper. The Appellate Court reversed, holding that whether the newspaper would improperly use information sought was irrelevant to analysis of whether certain material fell within the FOIA exemptions; whether the newspaper would be able to identify any particular student from information requested was irrelevant to whether if fell within the FOIA exemptions; Student Records Act was irrelevant to the issue of whether the newspaper was entitled to information contained in student records under the FOIA exemptions; and the newspaper's request fell squarely within exemption from disclosure under FOIA for personal information contained in student files.
City of Champaign v. Madigan - City filed for a review of the decision wherein the Attorney General found that texts and emails sent or received from a city council member's personal electronic device during public meetings, concerning city council business, were public records subject to newspaper reporter's FOIA request. The circuit court affirmed AG's decision. The Appellate Court affirmed AG's decisions holding that city council members' communication from personally owned electronic devices made during city council meetings and study sessions were subject to disclosure under FOIA.
Jessup v. Luther - Intervener newspaper moved to unseal settlement agreement that was sealed and deposited in the federal district court in § 1983 action by former vice president of a public college against the college, alleging that his termination violated due process. United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois denied the motion. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the settlement agreement in the court's file was public record.
Nelson v. County of Kendall - Pursuant to FOIA, requester brought action seeking injunction requiring State's Attorney to turn over emails that requester contended were responsive to records request. The circuit court dismissed the action. The Appellate Court affirmed, holding that the State's Attorney was not a "public body" and thus could not be compelled to comply with the request.
Reppert v. Southern Illinois University - Newspaper brought action against state university and its chancellor to obtain disclosure of the employment contracts of several university employees, claiming that the state constitution required disclosure of the contracts, that the FOIA compelled disclosure of the contracts, and that chancellor had a ministerial duty to release the contracts to the public. The circuit court granted a summary judgment in favor of the defendants on the FOIA claim and granted defendants' motion to dismiss the remaining counts. The Appellate Court reversed and remanded holding that the employment contracts were not exempt from disclosure under personnel-file exemption of the FOIA.
Rock River Times v. Rockford - Newspaper brought action against school district seeking release of a letter written by a school principal in response to a reprimand by the superintendent, pursuant to FOIA. The school district issued the letter before the court issued its ruling. The circuit court denied the newspaper's request for attorney fees but granted newspaper's request for a civil penalty. The Appellate Court affirmed, holding that the newspaper did not prevail in the FOIA action, as required, to be awarded attorney fees; but the evidence was sufficient to establish that the school district willfully and intentionally violated the FOIA, as required, in order for the district to be assessed a civil penalty.
Sage Information Services v. Humm - Requesters brought FOIA action against chief county assessment officer to compel the release of requested electronic information, the current real property assessment record file for the entire county, and for attorney fees and costs. The circuit court entered an order against the requesters. The Fifth District Appellate Court held that the county assessment officer could not charge $1,609.40 as a "reasonable fee" under the Tax Code for production of electronic records requested under FOIA.
Sage Information Services v. Suhr - Defendant brought appeal after circuit court granted motion for summary judgment in Plaintiffs favor based on the decision in Sage Information Services v. Humm. Defendant agrued that Humm was decided wrongly and that the Tax Code for production of electronic records should apply. The Second District Appellate Court agreed with the decision in Humm, therefore affirmed the circuit court's decision.
Southern Illinoisan, a Div. of Lee Enterprises, Inc. v. Department of Public Health - Newspaper brought FOIA action seeking release of cancer registry document relating to the incidence of neuroblastoma cancers in the region. The circuit court granted newspaper's motions for judgment on the pleading and partial summary judgment, and awarded attorney fees to newspaper. The Appellate court held that disclosure of the records was not precluded by FOIA's personal-information disclosure exemption and that the Department had a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the data could reasonably lead to identification therefore the newspaper was not entitled to attorney fees.
Stern v. Wheaton-Warrenville Community Unit School Dist. 200 - Requester filed a complaint against school district after it denied his FOIA request for a copy of superintendent's employment contract. The circuit court granted district's motion for summary judgment. The Appellate court reversed and remanded. The Supreme Court held that disclosure of superintendent's employment contract did not constitute an invasion of personal privacy for purposes of exemption from FOIA's disclosure requirements, and employment contracts had to be disclosed as a matter of law. Remand was warranted for an in camera inspection of the contract to determine whether it contained personal information that could constitute an unwarranted invasion of superintendent's personal privacy.
Twin-Cities Broadcasting Corp. v. Reynard - Request under FOIA seeking minutes and transcript of closed meeting of university board of regent for the State's Attorney. The circuit court enjoined State's Attorney from releasing requested documents. The Appellate court held that possession of requested documents by State's Attorney did not entitle it to release documents and the board was entitled to assert a FOIA exemption, despite opposition by State's Attorney.