Court Finds that School District Properly Denied Requests for Records as “Unduly Burdensome”
In 2016, Shriver National Center of Poverty Law, a non-profit organization, filed three categorical FOIA requests with the Chicago Board of Education seeking employment records related to alleged misconduct of police officers in CPS schools. The Board ultimately denied each request as unduly burdensome under section 3(g) of FOIA and invited the requester to narrow its requests further, which it failed to do. Shriver subsequently sued the Board, claiming its failure to produce the records was a willful violation of FOIA. Each time, the Board provided rather detailed descriptions as to why each search would have been unduly burdensome, namely that the requests would have involved hundreds of man hours to pull the responsive data and redact exempt information. The appellate court accepted these explanations as sufficient to satisfy the requirements under section 3(g), even for the narrowest request for records which the Board claimed involved 600 records from a one-year timeframe.
Finding that the Board’s reasoning for denying the requests was sufficient, it next applied the section 3(g) balancing test, which requires a public body to show that the burden on the public body outweighs the public interest in the requested information. Shriver claimed that it was seeking the records because they were related to the issue of the school-to-prison pipeline. While the court did not question the public importance of the issue, it was not convinced that Shriver’s broad requests for employment records were relevant to that concern. The court held the board had therefore properly invoked the unduly burdensome exemption in FOIA and dismissed the lawsuit. This case may provide helpful guidance to districts seeking to invoke the section 3(g) exemption in those cases where it cannot come to agreement with a requester on the narrowing of a request it considers burdensome to its operations.