Public Access Opinion 23-011

Duty to Respond to FOIA Requests

Freedom of Information Act - FOIA
Case: Public Access Opinion 23-011
Date: Wednesday, July 12, 2023

On March 15, 2023, Petitioner submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to Proviso Township High School District 209 (District) seeking copies of “any and all records related to legal or other kinds of settlements reached by the district or any of its employees from June 30, 2020, to February 28, 2023.” The District did not respond.

On March 27, 2023, Petitioner submitted a Request for Review with the Public Access Counselor (PAC) alleging that the District failed to respond to her FOIA request. On March 31, 2023, the PAC forwarded a copy of the Request for Review to the District along with a letter asking whether the District has responded to Petitioner’s FOIA request. The District did not respond.

On April 27, 2023, the PAC sent a second copy of the letter and Request for Review to the District, explaining that the PAC had not received any indication that the District had responded to the FOIA request. The District did not respond. On that same day, Petitioner provided the PAC with a copy of an April 19, 2023, letter from the District indicating she would receive a response to her FOIA request on April 30, 2023. On May 2, 2023, Petitioner confirmed she had not received that response.

On May 4, 2023, in a telephone call, the District’s FOIA officer at the time confirmed receipt of the March 15, 2023 FOIA request and indicated that the District was working on its response. On May 16, 2023, the PAC re-sent its April 27, 2023 letter to the FOIA officer and asked for an update. The District did not respond.

On May 25, 2023, June 14, 2023, and June 22, 2023, the PAC left voicemail messages for a new designated FOIA officer for the District, asking her to contact the PAC to discuss the Request for Review. The PAC received no response.

On July 3, 2023, the PAC e-mailed the District’s FOIA officer asking for an update as to when the District would respond to the FOIA request. On July 10, 2023, she replied via e-mail indicating that she would work with the Superintendent on a response to the request. As of July 12, 2023, the PAC had received no indication that the District had responded to the FOIA request.

Section 3(d) of FOIA provides that “each public body shall, promptly, either comply with or deny a request for public records within 5 business days after its receipt of the request, unless the time for response is properly extended under subsection (e) of this Section.”

The PAC concluded that the District violated Section 3(d) of FOIA by failing, within the statutory time for responding to a FOIA request, to provide Petitioner with copies of the requested records or to deny the request in writing in whole or in part. The PAC directed the District to take immediate and appropriate action to provide Petitioner with copies of all records responsive to her request, subject only to permissible redactions, if any, under Section 7 of FOIA.

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

Mary H. Bandstra, IASB Law Clerk