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Recent Court Decisions

Recent court and agency decisions involving board work

IASB's Office of General Counsel prepares summaries chosen from the Illinois Supreme and Appellate courts, federal court, agencies, the Illinois Public Access Counselor, and other tribunals issuing interesting decisions. Information in the summaries is limited to a brief synopsis and is not intended for purposes of legal advice. For the complete text of any case cited in this section, go to the Illinois state courts, Illinois Attorney General, or Federal courts finder links.

To search by the names of the plaintiff or defendant or other keyword, use the site search box located at the top of this website. Then filter results by Court Decision.

Questions regarding Recent Court and Agency Decisions should be directed to Kimberly Small, ext. 1226, or by email ksmall@iasb.com.


Court decisions are listed in order of the date posted, with the most recent shown first.
  • Freedom of Information Act - FOIA
    Failure to Respond to FOIA Request Violates Section 3(d) of FOIA
    Case: Public Access Opinion 23-001
    Decision Date: Thursday, January 12, 2023
    On August 12, 2022, Requestor submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Proviso Township High School District 209 (District) seeking any records relating to staffing levels for teachers in school year 2023. The District did not respond to the request. At the District’s Board of Education (Board) meeting on September 13, 2022 the District acknowledged having received Requestor’s FOIA request in its FOIA report to the Board, stating that “information will be provided”.  

    On October 13 and 14, 2022, Requestor filed a Request for Review with the Public Access Counselor (PAC) in which he alleged that the District had failed to respond to his FOIA request.

    On October 21, 2022, the PAC emailed the District asking if the District had received the request and directing the District to respond to the request and to send a copy of the response to the PAC. On November 15, 2022, The PAC re-sent the October 21, 2022 letter to the District. On November 16, 2022, The PAC sent a letter to the FOIA Officer for the District, explaining that the PAC had not received any indication that the District had responded to Requestor’s request. The District did not respond to PAC correspondence.

    Section 3(a) of FOIA provides that “each public body shall make available to any person for inspection or copying all public records…” Section 3(d) of FOIA further provides, “Each public body shall, promptly, either comply with or deny a request or public records within 5 business days after its receipt of the request… Failure to comply with a written request, extend the time for response, or deny a request within 5 business days after its receipt shall be considered a denial of the request.”

    The PAC found that the District did not respond to Requestor’s August 12, 2022 FOIA request within five business days after its receipt by either complying with the request, extending the time for its response pursuant to section 3(e) of FOIA, or denying the request in writing. The failure of the District to comply with the requisite response procedures violated section 3(d) of FOIA. The PAC ordered the District to take immediate and appropriate action to provide Requestor with all records responsive to his August 12, 2022 request, subject only to permissible redactions, if any, under section 7 of FOIA.

    This opinion is binding only to the parties involved and may be appealed pursuant to State law.

    Mary H. Bandstra, IASB Law Clerk
  • General Interest to School Officials
    California School Threat Assessment Team Members Not Immune from Liability for School Shooting
    Case: Cleveland v. Taft Union High School Dist., 76 Cal.App.5th 776 (2022)
    Decision Date: Friday, March 25, 2022
    On January 10, 2013, high school student B.O. shot Plaintiff Cleveland, another student, in the stomach at Taft Union High School (TUHS). Prior to the shooting, B.O. had described plans for committing acts of violence at school in several incidents during 2012 and 2013. The first was on a bus ride in February 2012 after a field trip, when B.O. described shooting someone at school and blowing up the auditorium.

    The next school day after the bus incident, a threat assessment was initiated. The threat assessment team (TAT) included the principal, assistant principal, school psychologist, and superintendent. TUHS prepared a Threat Assessment Report after interviewing B.O., his mother, his guidance counselor, and faculty involved in the bus incident. The report rated B.O. as having “insufficient evidence of violence potential, sufficient evidence for the unintentional infliction of emotional distress upon others.”

    Later incidents by B.O. involved drawings depicting a shooting at school, mentions of a hitlist, and warning classmates not to come to school multiple times. TUHS investigated these incidents but did not act on them. In December 2012, B.O.’s older brother obtained a shotgun. On January 9, 2013, B.O. warned a classmate not to come to school the next day and also told the classmate that he was going to kill Plaintiff. On January 10, 2013, B.O. took the shotgun to school and shot Plaintiff.

    After the shooting, Plaintiff sued TUHS for negligence, premises liability, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. TUHS, as a public entity with some state immunity for injuries resulting from acts or omissions of its employees (akin to Illinois’ Local Governmental and Governmental Tort Immunities Act), filed a pretrial motion seeking to preclude evidence, opinion, or argument at trial about the sufficiency, accuracy, or frequency of TUHS's threat assessment. The trial court granted the motion in part but also concluded there were a range of things, not covered by the immunity, that TUHS could have done which the jury might find breached their duty of care toward Plaintiff.

    During the trial, each side presented expert testimony on the effectiveness of TUHS’s threat assessment. The jury found that TUHS's employees were 54% responsible for Plaintiff’s injuries and the trial court entered a judgment for $2,052,000 against TUHS based on their employees’ negligence. TUHS appealed and claimed, in part, that its employees were immune under state law. The California appellate court disagreed with TUHS, finding that TUHS employees breached their duty of care to Plaintiff because 1) the threat assessment was not carried out by the TAT collectively, 2) the school resource officer should have been a core member of the TAT, 3) the TAT failed to communicate amongst themselves about B.O., 4) the TAT failed to adequately communicate with B.O.'s parent, 5) the TAT failed to recommend counseling to B.O.'s parent as an intervention technique, and 6) the TAT did not continue to collectively monitor B.O. and reassess his safety plan. Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the trial court judgment and also ordered TUHS to pay Plaintiff’s costs on appeal.

    This case, although not binding in Illinois, serves as a useful reminder of the limits of state law immunity and the diligence required when implementing threat assessments.

    Michelle Yang, IASB Law Clerk
     
  • Freedom of Information Act - FOIA
    Evidentiary and Discovery Rules Do Not Exempt from Disclosure Private Attorney’s Letter on Behalf of Clients
    Case: Public Access Opinion 22-013
    Decision Date: Tuesday, November 22, 2022
    On October 26, 2021, Requestor submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on behalf of the Chicago Tribune to the City of Chicago Department of Law (Department) seeking copies of certain emails. On November 9, 2021, the Department provided copies of records but withheld a letter submitted by a private attorney on behalf of clients pursuant to section 7(1)(a) of FOIA. The Department argued that evidentiary rules prohibited disclosure of the letter because it concerned settlement negotiations. On November 11, 2021, Requester submitted a Request for Review to the Public Access Counselor (PAC) contesting the denial.

    On July 22, 2022, the PAC issued a non-binding determination that the Department improperly denied the letter and requested that it provide Requestor with a copy. On August 26, 2022, the Department informed the PAC that it would not comply. The PAC subsequently issued this binding opinion on the matter.

    The Department’s denial of the request was based on the premise that the letter in question documents privileged settlement negotiations and is prohibited from being disclosed by evidentiary and discovery rules. The PAC noted, however, that the letter does not propose or demand a settlement that would resolve the matter or request that the Department engage in negotiations concerning a possible settlement. Thus, the PAC found that the Department had not demonstrated that the letter reflects settlement negotiations encompassed by evidentiary and discovery rules. 

    The PAC further reasoned that even if the letter could be construed to be part of a settlement negotiation, is not exempt under the FOIA exemptions the Department asserted. The PAC explained that Federal Rule of Evidence 408, Federal Rule of Evidence 501, Illinois Rule of Evidence 408, Illinois Rule of Evidence 501, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b), and Illinois Supreme Court Rule 201(b) are judicial rules governing discovery and the admission of evidence in court proceedings. Restrictions on the discovery of information and the admissibility of evidence in court proceedings are inapplicable to the public’s statutory right to obtain information pursuant to FOIA. Such rules do not provide a basis for denying records under section 7(1)(a).

    The Department additionally cited Section 7(1)(f) of FOIA. The PAC noted that, to be exempt under section 7(1)(f), a record must be 1) inter-agency or intra-agency, and 2) pre-decisional and deliberative. The letter that the Department withheld was prepared by a private attorney on behalf of clients with interest independent from the Department’s interests. Because the letter is not an intra-agency or inter-agency communication, or a pre-decisional and deliberative record, it is not exempt from disclosure pursuant to section 7(1)(f) of FOIA.

    The PAC ordered the Department to provide Requestor with a copy of the responsive letter.

    This opinion is binding only to the parties involved and may be appealed pursuant to State law.

    Mary H. Bandstra, IASB Law Clerk
     
  • Open Meetings Act - OMA
    Improper Closed Session Discussion under the Exemption for Purchasing or Leasing Real Property
    Case: Public Access Opinion 22-012
    Decision Date: Friday, September 30, 2022
    On July 6, 2022, Requestor submitted a Request for Review to the PAC complaining that the Board of Education of Decatur Public School District No. 61 (School Board) had violated OMA by discussing building a new grade school with COVID-19 relief funds in closed sessions under the section 2(c)(5) exception.

    Section 2(c)(5) permits public bodies to close a portion of the meeting to discuss “the purchase or lease of real property for the use of the public body, including meetings held for the purpose of discussing whether a particular parcel should be acquired.”

    After reviewing minutes and verbatim recordings from several closed meetings between October 21, 2021 and June 28, 2022, the PAC concluded that the School Board had exceeded the scope of the exception. While discussion about potential sites for the new school may be held in closed sessions, the broader discussion about building a new school with COVID-19 relief funds was beyond the limited scope of the exception.

    The PAC ordered the public body to make publicly available the closed session verbatim recordings and closed session minutes of the meetings. The limited portions relevant to acquiring particular properties may be redacted.

    This opinion is binding only to the parties involved and may be appealed pursuant to State law.

    Michelle Yang, IASB Law Clerk


     
  • General Interest to School Officials
    Blocking Parents From Board Trustees’ Social Media Pages Violated Parents’ Free Speech Rights
    Case: Garnier v. O’Connor-Ratcliff, 41 F.4th 1158 (9th Cir. 2022).
    Decision Date: Wednesday, July 27, 2022
    In November 2014, while running for election to the Poway Unified School District Board of Trustees (Board), two individuals (Trustees) created public Facebook pages to promote their campaigns. After winning their elections, Trustees changed the descriptions of their pages to state they were now government officials, and they continued to use their Facebook pages to post content related to district business. One Trustee also created a Twitter page related to her official duties. In their posts, Trustees invited the public to fill out surveys, shared information about upcoming events, and reported on Board action. Trustees did not establish any rules of etiquette or decorum regulating how the public was to interact with the pages.

    Constituents who frequently commented on Trustees’ posts included Christopher and Kimberly Garnier (Parents), who had children attending the district and had been active in the district community for years, regularly attending Board meetings and emailing the Board about their concerns. Parents began posting lengthy and repetitive comments on Trustees’ social media pages. Frustrated with Parents’ repetitive posts, Trustees began deleting or hiding the posts and Trustees eventually blocked Parents from the pages. Then, Trustees began using Facebook’s word filter feature to effectively prevent all verbal comments on the pages. Parents filed a Section 1983 suit alleging Trustees violated their First Amendment rights by blocking Parents from public fora (the social media pages) and sought damages and declaratory and injunctive relief.

    The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California (District Court) granted Trustees qualified immunity as to the damages claim but allowed the case to proceed. Following a bench trial, the District Court found that Trustees’ social media pages were designated public fora and that Trustees’ decision to block Parents was content neutral and intended “to enforce an unwritten rule of decorum prohibiting repetitious speech on their social media pages.” Even so, the District Court granted judgment to Parents and awarded costs because Trustees’ indefinite blocking of Parents was not narrowly tailored to avoid repetitive comments.

    Trustees appealed, arguing that they closed any public fora they had created on their social media pages when they blocked almost all comments using word filters, so Parents’ case was moot. The Appeals Court did not buy this argument, noting that Facebook word filters did not stop the public from reacting to posts (e.g., with a “like” or emoticons) and that Twitter did not have word filters. The Appeals Court affirmed that Trustees’ social media conduct was sufficiently related to their official duties to mean that they constituted state action (even if the Board did not fund or authorize them) because their posts concerned or promoted district business and the pages did not contain any disclaimer that the “statements made on this web site reflect the personal opinions of the author” and “are not made in any official capacity.” The Appeals Court also affirmed that Trustees violated Parents’ First Amendment rights when they blocked Parents from the social media pages and that Parents were entitled to relief.

    While the Appeals Court noted that not every social media account operated by a public official is a government account and that specific facts and circumstances must be weighed, this case is an important reminder of factors that board members should consider when operating social media pages, including but not limited to: how the page is described and used, how members of the public and government regard and treat the page, whether the page has any rules of etiquette and decorum, and whether the page contains any disclaimers.