Heinrich v. White, No. 11-CH-558 (IL App. 2d. August 27, 2012) Reversed.

Personally identifying information

Freedom of Information Act - FOIA
Case: Heinrich v. White, No. 11-CH-558 (IL App. 2d. August 27, 2012) Reversed.
Date: Monday, August 27, 2012

Heinrich submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for access to administrative decisions by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) regarding licenses that were suspended or revoked by the Secretary of State (SOS). Heinrich also requested the DMV decisions within one year. This request sought documents that were not yet created, but it also sought records that did exist. The SOS denied Heinrich’s FOIA request because (1) the information contained in the documents was private, and (2) the requested documents did not exist.

Under 2-123 (f-5) of the Ill. Vehicle Code, the SOS cannot disclose or make otherwise available any personally identifying information obtained by the SOS in connection with a driver’s license, vehicle or title registration record. However, this section does not include information like vehicular accidents, driving violations, and driving status. Under section 7 of the FOIA, personal information like driver’s license numbers or home addresses are exempt from disclosure.

The appellate court concluded that the SOS should have turned over the documents with the personal information redacted. A FOIA request cannot be dismissed because part of a request is invalid, and although the documents contained private information, it could be redacted (blacking-out private information). While the trial court decided that the redacted documents were likely useless, the appellate court found that it is not the trial court’s job to decide if redacted documents are useless.

The SOS also argued that the production of the documents would be burdensome. However, the appellate court offered that to prove that a request is burdensome, the elements that must be present are: (1) compliance with the request must be unduly burdensome, (2) there must be no way to narrow the request, and (3) the burden on the public body must outweigh the public interest. The case was reversed and sent back to the lower court to review the burden of Heinrich’s request under this test and Heinrich’s continued need for the information.

Rachel Prezek, IASB Law Clerk