Public Access Opinion 21-001

Duty to Confer Before Denying Request as Unduly Burdensome

Freedom of Information Act - FOIA
Case: Public Access Opinion 21-001
Date: Tuesday, January 26, 2021

The Chicago Police Department (CPD) violated Section 3(g) of FOIA by improperly denying a FOIA request as unduly burdensome without first conferring with the Requestor about possible ways to narrow the request to manageable proportions.

On September 11, 2020, Requestor submitted a FOIA request to CPD, seeking copies of any subpoenas received by CPD from federal law enforcement agencies and any search warrants served on CPD during August of 2020. On the same day, CPD extended its time to respond to Requestor by five business days, as permitted by Section 3(e) of FOIA. On September 25, 2020, CPD responded to Requestor, stating it considered the request to be unduly burdensome under Section 3(g) of FOIA and denying the request. In so doing, CPD stated it didn’t have “any automatic mechanism by which to track, query, or limit a search of subpoena and/or search warrant records categorically” as Requestor sought. CPD then offered Requestor an opportunity to submit a new FOIA request. Three days later Requestor replied to CPD, asking to confer about narrowing his request. By October 2, 2020 Requestor had not heard back from CPD and followed-up via email, again asking to confer about the FOIA request. On October 12, 2020, Requestor submitted a Request for Review to the PAC, alleging that CPD failed to confer with him before denying his request as unduly burdensome.

Section 3(g) of FOIA states that before denying a FOIA request as unduly burdensome “the public body shall extend to the person making the request an opportunity to confer with it in an attempted to reduce the request to manageable proportions.” The PAC interprets the plain meaning of “an opportunity to confer” as a chance to engage in dialogue. Because CPD did not do this, the PAC held that CPD failed to fulfill its obligation to confer under Section 3(g). The PAC ordered CPD to take immediate and appropriate action to provide Requestor copies of any subpoenas responsive to his FOIA request, subject only to permissible redactions. The PAC specifically noted that if CPD chooses to redact any information from the records it provides to Requestor, it must include a written notice of the denial that identifies the basis for each redaction.

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