Illinois Appellate Court Decides a Case Concerning FOIA

Author: Jacob D. Caudill

May 8, 2018

Last month, Illinois’s Fourth District Appellate Court issued an opinion concerning the Freedom of Information Act and what constitutes a “public body” under the Act. The request at issue sought records of the city’s Housing Task Force (“HTF”). Specifically, the request sought 1) records of “all meeting times, locations, and meeting notices of the [HTF];” 2) “copies of all minutes, notes and documents created during the meetings; and 3) “all communication[s], electronic or otherwise, between any member of said taskforce and any city [] employee, city staff, or elected official.”

In December 2014, the HTF was created to identify housing issues and trends within the city. The HTF convened several times between December 2014 and July 2015, and consisted of eighteen (18) community members and four (4) city employees.

After denying the FOIA request at issue, the requester sought review through the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor (“PAC”). The PAC determined that the records were subject to disclosure. The city subsequently filed suit for administrative review, to which the circuit court also found that the records were subject to disclosure.

On appeal, the city argued 1) that the HTF was not a “public body” subject to FOIA, and 2) that the requested records did not constitute “public records” as defined under the FOIA. As to the first issue, the appellate court simply stated that the FOIA request was submitted to the city, not the HTF. Thus, “the relevant inquiry is whether the city, not the Housing Task Force, is a ‘public body.’ ” There was no dispute as to whether or not the city was a public body.

Next, the appellate court was tasked with determining whether or not the requested documents were “public records.” “[T]o qualify as a ‘public record’ under the Act, the requested documents must (1) pertain ‘to the transaction of public business’ and (2) have been ‘prepared by or for, or having been or being used by, received by, in the possession of, or under the control of any public body.’ ” (emphasis added by the court.) With regard to the request, the appellate court agreed that the requested records pertained to “pubic business” and the records “appear to concern business or community interests and not private affairs.” Furthermore, the city had already indicated that it was in possession of the requested records. Therefore, the appellate court determined that the requested records were subject to disclosure.

As a result of this opinion, any public body that wishes to set up a housing task force, or something similar, should be aware that any records of that entity may be subject to disclosure.