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Mid-america Tv v. Peoria Housing Authority

OPINION FILED FEBRUARY 11, 1981.

MID-AMERICA TELEVISION COMPANY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

PEORIA HOUSING AUTHORITY ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Peoria County; the Hon. ROBERT E. HUNT, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE STOUDER DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

This is an appeal from a judgment of the circuit court of Peoria County in favor of the defendant, Peoria Housing Authority (PHA), and against the plaintiff, Mid-America Television Company (Mid-America). The PHA is a municipal corporation. As a part of its function as a public housing authority, it receives title 8 Federal rent subsidy funds and disburses the funds to various landlords within the territorial confines of its authority. These funds are for the benefit of poverty-level-income-group tenants. Under this program, the tenants are required to pay up to 25 percent of their incomes for rent, with the balance of the rent paid directly to the landlords through the PHA. Landlords are given the choice of participating or not participating in the subsidy program. If they choose to participate, they are then guaranteed reasonable compensation.

Sometime prior to March 4, 1980, Mid-America, owner of a local television station, WEEK-TV, obtained information that a certain landlord was receiving rent subsidy payments for a dwelling that had not been approved by inspectors of the PHA. These subsidy payments were purportedly being made by the PHA with knowledge that the property had failed to pass scrutiny by its inspectors. This story was broadcast over WEEK-TV on March 4, 1980.

On March 5, 1980, the news director of WEEK-TV sent a letter to the executive director of the PHA requesting access to certain information pursuant to the Illinois Local Records Act. Specifically, the station requested a list of landlords receiving title 8 Federal funds for housing through the PHA, the amount of monthly payments received, and a list of the addresses of those properties subsidized under the title 8 program and offered to pay any costs incurred in searching for and copying the requested records. The PHA refused the request and refused all subsequent written and verbal requests for access.

In response to the PHA's refusal to provide the information, Mid-America brought an action for a writ of mandamus praying that the trial court require the PHA to produce the requested information for the immediately preceding 12-month period. The defendants admitted all the facts averred in the complaint, but asserted two affirmative defenses. The first related to an alleged right of privacy of the tenants living on the subsidized properties and the second raised a similar right in favor of the landlords. Mid-America moved for summary judgment, and the trial court found in favor of the PHA, ruling that they had prevailed on their affirmative defenses.

There is only one issue raised on appeal by Mid-America — whether the trial court abused its discretion and ruled contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence when it denied Mid-America's complaint for a writ of mandamus. We reverse.

In its complaint for issuance of a writ of mandamus, Mid-America based its request for access to the PHA's records on two separate legal grounds, one constitutional and one statutory.

The constitutional provision relied upon in making the request is article VIII, section 1 of the 1970 Illinois Constitution, which provides:

"(a) Public funds, property or credit shall be used only for public purposes.

(b) The State, units of local government and school districts shall incur obligations for payment or make payments from public funds only as authorized by law or ordinance.

(c) Reports and records of the obligation, receipt and use of public funds of the State, units of local government and school districts are public records available for inspection by the public according to law."

The statute on which Mid-America relied in making its request is section 3a of the Local Records Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 116, par. 43.103a). Pursuant to the above-mentioned constitutional imperative, it provides:

"Reports and records of the obligation, receipt and use of public funds of the units of local government and school districts are public records available for inspection by the public. * * * These records shall be available for public inspection during regular office hours * * *. The person in charge of such records may require a notice in writing to be submitted 24 hours prior to inspection and may require that such notice specify which records are to be inspected. Nothing in this section shall require units of local government and school districts to invade or assist in the invasion of any person's right to privacy."

The PHA contends that the information requested by Mid-America does not constitute "reports and records" as meant by the statute or the constitutional provision. Alternatively, the PHA argues that even if the information does constitute a report or record, the PHA may not disclose the information because to do so would invade the ...


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