Recently, in Staake v. Department of Corrections, 2022 IL App (4th) 210071, the Appellate Court heard a case pertaining to alleged FOIA violations. In 2018, an inmate, Jared Staake, filed two separate FOIA requests with the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) for documents including a complaint on file in a class action against DOC personnel and educational documents. The DOC denied both requests citing Section 7(1)(a) of FOIA which exempts information prohibited from disclosure by federal or State law or rules and regulations implementing federal or State laws. 5 ILCS 140/7(1)(a).
Staake filed a complaint against DOC for declaratory and injunctive relief alleging that DOC intentionally, willfully or in bad faith violated the FOIA and sought five (5) forms of relief. Shortly after the complaint was filed, DOC mailed Staake a copy of his previously requested records with redactions. DOC filed a cross motion for summary judgment arguing that Staake’s claims for declaratory judgment became moot when DOC provided him with his requested documents. The trial court found DOC did not intentionally, willfully, or in bad faith, violate the FOIA and Staake did not demonstrate that he had incurred attorney fees or costs and granted summary judgment for DOC.
Staake appealed arguing that DOC’s mid-litigation disclosure of documents did not render his claim for declaratory relief moot and he was entitled to costs. The Appellate Court explained that because DOC provided Staake with all requested documents (which were the bases for his complaint) an actual controversy no longer exists and his claim for declaratory relief is moot. As to Staake’s claim for attorneys fees, the appellate court noted that claims for civil penalties survive even after documents are disclosed under FOIA.
To obtain civil penalties under FOIA, a plaintiff must demonstrate the public body (1) failed to comply with the FOIA and (2) did so willfully, intentionally and in bad faith. Ultimately the Appellate Court concluded that questions of material fact remain. Therefore, summary judgment for DOC was improper and remanded the case back to the trial court to determine whether DOC acted in bad faith under the FOIA.