In 2021, a commercial requestor submitted a FOIA request to a County seeking a copy of the most recent county tax map file maintained by the County in accordance with section 9-35 of the Property Tax Code for all parcels in the County. The County denied the FOIA request citing exemption 7(1)(i), which exempts, in relevant part, the following: 

[v]aluable formulae, computer geographic systems, designs, drawings and research data obtained or produced by any public body when disclosure could reasonably be expected to produce private gain or public loss. 

In its denial letter, the County stated that because the requested tax maps constituted computer geographic systems data that, if disclosed, could reasonably be expected to result in private gain or public loss. 

The requestor then filed a lawsuit against the County alleging that it violated FOIA when it denied the request. The trial court ruled in favor of the County, finding that (1) the requested tax maps were stored in a “shapefile format” that qualified under FOIA exemption 7(1)(i) and (2) the County’s previous voluntary disclosure of the requested records did not waive the County’s ability to invoke exemption 7(1)(i). 

On appeal, the Appellate Court upheld the trial court’s ruling in favor of the County in Hurlbert v. Edmonds. The Appellate Court determined that because the county tax maps were part of a computerized geographic system and disclosure of these records was reasonably expected to produce a private gain to the requestor, the County properly denied release of the records under FOIA exemption 7(1)(i). 

The Appellate Court also rejected the requestor’s argument that the County waived the ability to assert the exemption because it had previously produced the GIS data in various formats to the requestor and others, The court noted that individuals had obtained the data previously pursuant to a licensing agreement with the County that required payment of a fee and prohibited the reproduction or redistribution of the data. The court determined that with payment of a user fee, no private gain or public loss would result from disclosure of GIS data under a licensing agreement, which the Court distinguished from disclosure pursuant to a FOIA request.

Post Authored by Eugene Bolotnikov, Ancel Glink