Illinois Appellate Court Decides Case Concerning FOIA

Author: Jacob D. Caudill
April 20, 2017

Last week, an Illinois appellate court issued an opinion concerning Illinois’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Specifically, the court considered the timing of when a new statutory amendment could impact a FOIA request.

On January 21, 2013, the Plaintiffs, a structural engineer and his firm, filed a FOIA request seeking a copy of the complaint that was filed against the engineer with regard to his structural engineer’s license. After the Defendant, the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, denied the request, the Plaintiffs sought review through the Public Access Counselor, who ultimately upheld the Defendant’s decision to withhold the complaint from disclosure.

Thereafter, the Plaintiffs filed suit in circuit court on November 6, 2014. On July 27, 2015, a hearing was held on Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment. In its decision, the circuit court found the complaint to be exempt from disclosure, but held that two exhibits to the complaint could be disclosed. Both parties subsequently moved for reconsideration.

In support of reconsideration, the Defendant argued that the court should reconsider its decision because a statutory amendment, which took effect August 3, 2015 (a week after the hearing), explicitly prohibited disclosure of complaints and exhibits such as those at issue. The circuit court agreed and held that the Plaintiffs were not entitled to disclosure of either the complaint or the exhibits.

On appeal, the appellate court affirmed the decision of the circuit court, finding that the August 3, 2015, statutory amendment prohibits the disclosure because the new statute did not have an “impermissible retroactive effect.” The fact that injunctive relief was sought also strengthened the court’s holding because injunctive relief “is a prospective form of relief for which the circuit court must apply the law in effect at the time of its decision.”

This case reinforces that municipalities must always stay up to date on recent changes to the FOIA and the laws impacting it.

Jacob D. Caudill