Public Access Opinion 20-005

Improper Denial of Records Held by a Third Party Vendor

Freedom of Information Act - FOIA
Case: Public Access Opinion 20-005
Date: Monday, July 27, 2020

The PAC held that the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) violated FOIA when it denied a request for data on head injuries of inmates in its custody.
On March 15, 2020, a Requestor submitted a FOIA request to IDOC seeking "access to and a copy of aggregate data on head injuries incurred since 2015 by inmates in [IDOC] custody, including time and place of injury, type or severity of injury, and cause of injury.” The request also sought, “records reflecting the department’s policies…regarding evaluating concussions or traumatic brain injuries for inmates and correctional officers or other employees when these happen within correctional facilities.”
IDOC responded that it did not have the requested data or policies, and claimed that since the requested records were furnished by their healthcare vendor, Wexford Health Sources, Inc. (Wexford), they were exempt from disclosing any responsive records it might have pursuant to Section 7(1)(g) of FOIA. Requestor submitted a Request for Review contesting the denial, and contended that the records were in fact subject to disclosure pursuant to Section 7(2) of FOIA.
Section 7(1)(g) of FOIA exempts, “[t]rade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person or business where the trade secrets or commercial or financial information are furnished under a claim that they are proprietary, privileged or confidential, and that disclosure of the trade secrets or commercial or financial information would cause competitive harm to the person or business, and only insofar as the claim directly applies to the records requested.”
Section 7(2) of FOIA states that, “[a] public record that is not in the possession of a public body but is in the possession of a party with whom the agency has contracted to perform a governmental function on behalf of the public body, and that directly relates to the governmental function and is not otherwise exempt under this Act, shall be considered a public record of the public body[.]”
After completing its review, the PAC concluded that IDOC did not establish how the requested records constituted trade secrets, commercial or financial information, or how they would cause competitive harm to Wexford. The PAC held that since Wexford was contracted by IDOC to carry out duties for a public body (i.e. furnishing data), they were obligated to release the requested records. The PAC directed IDOC to release the responsive records to the requestor.
This opinion is binding only to the parties involved and may be appealed pursuant to State law.