In 2021, an individual filed various FOIA requests with a County State’s Attorney’s Office (SAO) seeking personnel files of the State’s Attorney and three SAO employees. The SAO denied the requests pursuant to FOIA exemption 7(1)(c), asserting that disclosure of the requested records would cause a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy to the SAO and its employees. After the requestor sued the SAO alleging the improper denial of his FOIA requests, the trial court ruled in favor of the SAO, finding that  disclosure of the personnel files would cause a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy to the SAO and its employees that outweighed the requestor’s and the public’s interest in the requested information. 

After the requestor appealed, the Appellate Court upheld the ruling in favor of the SAO in Cohee v. Peoria County State’s Attorney’s Office. The Court used the four-part factor balancing test that had been established in a prior Illinois Supreme Court decision to determine that although the requestor had no other means of obtaining the requested information, disclosure of the requested records would cause a significant invasion of personal privacy of the employees because the records contained highly personal and confidential information. The employees’ personal privacy outweighed the requestor’s low interest in the disclosure of this information, since the court determined that the requestor only sought the records to try to punish the SAO for refusing to bring charges in an unrelated matter.

It is important to note that personnel files will rarely be found to be entirely exempt from FOIA, and this Court’s ruling was based on the specific facts presented in this case, including the motives of the requester and the nature of the records that were requested.

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf & Eugene Bolotnikov