Principles guiding the award of attorney fees for a FOIA violation
The Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) violated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by failing to timely comply with a records request from the Uptown People’s Law Center (Uptown). IDOC turned over the requested records two weeks after Uptown filed a petition in court. FOIA requires a trial court to award attorney fees to any person who “prevails” in a proceeding to enforce FOIA. The question was whether a party can “prevail” under FOIA absent a court order. An earlier decision from the Second District Court of Appeals found that a party does not “prevail” under FOIA unless a court issues an order requiring compliance. Here, the First District found that a plaintiff may obtain attorney fees under FOIA regardless of the extent that he or she is successful in a court action. It held that court-ordered relief is not a prerequisite to an award of attorney fees under FOIA. The Court still denied Uptown an award of attorney fees. It cited an Illinois Supreme Court decision holding that an attorney representing him- or herself is not entitled to an award of attorney fees. Uptown was represented by in-house lawyers and, thus, was not required to spend additional funds specifically to pursue the FOIA request. The Court found that Uptown was not entitled to receive attorney fees that were never incurred.