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Monmouth v. Galesburg Printing & Pub. Co.

OPINION FILED JUNE 17, 1986.

THE CITY OF MONMOUTH, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT AND CROSS-APPELLEE,

v.

THE GALESBURG PRINTING AND PUBLISHING COMPANY, D/B/A THE REGISTER MAIL, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES AND CROSS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Warren County; the Hon. Francis P. Murphy, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE BARRY DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

The city of Monmouth appeals from the dismissal of its complaint for declaratory judgment and injunction against a Galesburg newspaper and one of its reporters in a dispute over the disclosure of the names, ages, and addresses of the victims of crimes occurring within the city. Defendants cross-appeal from that part of the dismissal order which held that section 7(b)(v) of the Freedom of Information Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 116, par. 207(b)(v) is constitutional.

Section 3 of the Freedom of Information Act provides that every public body shall make available all public records to any person for inspection and copying except as otherwise provided in section 7. Section 7 specifies certain exemptions from inspection and copying, including the following:

"(b) Information which, if disclosed, would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, unless such disclosure is consented to in writing by the individual subjects of such information. The disclosure of information that bears on the public duties of public employees and officials shall not be considered an invasion of personal privacy. Information exempted under this subsection (b) shall include but is not limited to:

(v) information revealing the identity of persons who file complaints with or provide information to administrative, investigative, law enforcement or penal agencies." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 116, par. 207(b)(v).

After the Freedom of Information Act took effect on July 1, 1984, the city of Monmouth refused to disclose to the Galesburg Register Mail newspaper and its reporter Carol Clark the identities of the victims of crimes occurring within the city. The city did make public the fact that a crime, such as burglary or theft, occurred at a general location, such as the 100 block of Third Avenue. When Clark presented written requests for additional information, such as name, age, sex, and address of the victims, the city clerk refused on the ground that such information was exempt from disclosure under section 7(b)(v) of the Freedom of Information Act. In each case, Clark and the newspaper appealed that decision to the mayor who affirmed the denial of information.

After more than 37 such requests were made and denied between July 9 and August 7, 1984, the city filed a complaint for declaratory judgment and an injunction against Clark and the Register Mail. The city sought to have the circuit court of Warren County declare that, under the statute, the identities of persons who file complaints with or provide information to the Monmouth police department were per se exempt from disclosure under the statute. The city also asked the court to enjoin defendants from making requests for such exempt information. Defendants filed a motion to strike and dismiss the complaint on the ground that the statute was unconstitutional and that the statute did not intend a per se determination that all criminal complainants and informants were exempt from disclosure.

The trial court ruled that the statutory provision in question does not violate either the Constitution of Illinois or the first and fourteenth amendments to the Constitution of the United States and that the statute does not authorize a categorical determination of exemption; rather, the city must show how each claim of exemption is a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. The court dismissed the complaint with prejudice, and this appeal followed.

We are presented with three issues. (1) Did the trial court interpret the statute correctly? (2) Does the statute violate the constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press? (3) Does the complaint state a cause of action?

In our view, the determinative question is that of statutory interpretation. The city contends that section 7(b)(v) of the Freedom of Information Act grants exemption from disclosure as to the identity of all informants and complainants in criminal cases. In other words, the city interprets the statute as stating that, as to all persons in the category of informants and complainants, disclosure of identity would be an unwarranted invasion of their right to personal privacy. It is argued that the plain and ordinary meaning of the language used by the legislature was to specify certain categories of exempt information since paragraph (b) made the broad statement relating to right to privacy and subparagraphs (i) through (v) contain some types of information which are included.

Defendants, on the other hand, argue that paragraph (b) contains a general requirement that information entitled to exemption must be a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy and that this general requirement qualifies subsections (i) through (v). That is, an informant or complainant would be entitled to an exemption from disclosure if disclosure would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy in that particular case.

Defendants' interpretation is the one adopted by the trial court and is consistent with the public policy stated by the legislature in section 1 of the Act:

"Pursuant to the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of government, it is declared to be the public policy of the State of Illinois that all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts and policies of those who represent them as public officials and public employees consistent with the terms of this Act. Such access is necessary to enable the people to fulfill their duties of discussing public issues fully and freely, making informed political judgments and monitoring government to ensure that it is being conducted in the public interest.

This Act is not intended to be used to violate individual privacy, nor for the purpose of furthering a commercial enterprise, or to disrupt the duly-undertaken work of any public body independent of the fulfillment of any of the ...


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