Public Access Opinion 18-007

The Public Body’s Burden When Denying a Request as an Unduly Burdensome Repeated Request

Freedom of Information Act - FOIA
Case: Public Access Opinion 18-007
Date: Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) violated FOIA by improperly denying a FOIA request as an unduly burdensome repeated request. On November 7, 2017, a ProPublica Illinois Reporter (Reporter) submitted a FOIA request to IDOC seeking various records concerning the Illinois Impact Incarceration Program. On November 27, 2017, IDOC: 1) provided the Reporter with copies of some responsive records; 2) denied other responsive records pursuant to Section 8.5(a) of FOIA (which states a public body is not required to copy a record published on its website but it must notify the requestor that the record is available online and direct the requestor to the website); and 3) stated it did not “maintain or possess additional records responsive to” the Reporter’s request. The Reporter disputed IDOC’s assertion that it did not “maintain or possess” certain responsive records, and she submitted a Request for Review to the PAC on February 2, 2018. The PAC did not review the matter because the Reporter’s Request for Review was more than 60 days after IDOC’s alleged denial, but it suggested the Reporter file a new FOIA request with IDOC.

On March 6, 2018 the Reporter did just that, and on March 12, 2018 IDOC denied the Reporter’s request pursuant to Section 3(g) of FOIA, which permits a public body to deny a request as unduly burdensome if it is a repeat request from the same requestor for the same records that are unchanged or identical to records that were “previously provided or properly denied.” On March 15, 2018, the Reporter submitted a Request for Review to the PAC, disputing IDOC’s assertion that her request was an unduly burdensome repeated request and alleging that IDOC’s response was incomplete because it did not include certain responsive records. The PAC asked IDOC to explain how it searched for responsive records and to specifically address the allegedly missing records. In response, IDOC did not answer the PAC’s questions but instead argued that the basis for its original denials of the Reporter’s first FOIA request were irrelevant and that the only question should be whether the Reporter had previously requested the same records. The PAC did not buy IDOC’s argument, stating that “a public body may only deny a FOIA request as an unduly burdensome repeated request only if it has previously provided the requestor with all of the nonexempt responsive records or properly denied the same FOIA request by the same requester in accordance with FOIA,” so it is necessary to look back to the original request and response to determine whether the public body met that burden.

The PAC found that IDOC failed to demonstrate that it properly denied the Reporter’s March 6, 2018 FOIA request as an unduly burdensome repeated request. The PAC ordered IDOC to thoroughly search for the allegedly missing records and provide any newly-located records to the FOIA Requestor, subject only to any permissible redactions under Section 7.

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