Shehadeh v. City of Taylorville, 2024 IL App (5th) 220824-U

Letter from requestor to mayor not public record under FOIA

Freedom of Information Act - FOIA
Case: Shehadeh v. City of Taylorville, 2024 IL App (5th) 220824-U
Date: Wednesday, February 14, 2024

On March 4, 2022, Plaintiff sent a letter to the mayor of the City of Taylorville (City) complaining about the city attorney’s conduct in a pending lawsuit between Plaintiff and the City. The letter included a request for a copy of the letter under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The City’s FOIA officer denied the request, indicating that the letter constituted “an improper and illegal attempted communication” between the representatives of the City in the pending litigation rather than a genuine FOIA request. After filing a complaint alleging that the City violated FOIA, Plaintiff explained that his request was intended to be confirmation that his letter was received and made part of the public record.

The trial court found no FOIA violation, holding that requests which merely ask for a copy of the request back violated the spirit of FOIA. The appellate court affirmed. While the purpose of FOIA is to make public records open to public scrutiny, the appellate court noted two important limitations: (1) the requested material must relate to the transaction of public business, and (2) the record must have been prepared or received by or be under the possession or control of a public body.

First, the court held that Plaintiff’s FOIA request contained only complaints about the city attorney and did not pertain to public business. Second, the court held that the mayor was not a “public body.” FOIA explicitly distinguishes between a “public body” and the “head of public body,” such as a mayor. Therefore, Plaintiff’s letter was not a public record that must be disclosed under FOIA. The court also noted that FOIA is intended to provide the public with access to information, and returning a copy of the letter did not further the purpose of FOIA.

While this case does not involve education law, the limitations of what may be requested under FOIA are relevant for school boards.

Michelle Yang, IASB Law Clerk