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04/28/89 Paul Staske, v. the City of Champaign

April 28, 1989

PAUL STASKE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE

v.

THE CITY OF CHAMPAIGN, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, FOURTH DISTRICT

539 N.E.2d 747, 183 Ill. App. 3d 1, 132 Ill. Dec. 184 1989.IL.620

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Champaign County; the Hon. John G. Townsend, Judge, presiding.

APPELLATE Judges:

JUSTICE SPITZ delivered the opinion of the court. LUND and GREEN, JJ., concur.

DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE SPITZ

The defendant City of Champaign appeals from an order of the circuit court of Champaign County entering summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff Paul Staske and against the defendant, and enjoining the defendant from refusing to disclose witness information and statements contained in a traffic accident report which had been requested by the plaintiff under the Freedom of Information Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 116, par. 201 et seq.). For the reasons that follow, we reverse.

The plaintiff Paul C. Staske was involved in a traffic accident that occurred on May 2, 1988. On May 16, 1988, the plaintiff filed an FOIA request with the defendant City of Champaign (City), requesting a copy of the Champaign police traffic accident report concerning the aforementioned accident. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 116, par. 201 et seq.) On May 16, 1988, the City delivered a copy of the accident report to the plaintiff but informed the plaintiff that it was unable to comply with the plaintiff's request in its entirety and that certain portions of the report were deleted. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 116, par. 209.) The information deleted from the accident report was witness information and statements. The reason given for the deletion was that this was "information which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy and for which no consent in writing by the individual involved has been received." See Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 116, par. 207(b).

On May 26, 1988, the plaintiff filed a "Notice of Appeal To Head of Public Body From Denial of Access To Public Records" with the city manager. On May 31, 1988, the city manager, Steven C. Carter, denied disclosure of the entire accident report, stating that the deleted material was exempt from disclosure under section 7(b) of the FOIA. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 116, par. 207(b).

On June 9, 1988, the plaintiff filed a complaint for injunctive and declaratory relief in the circuit court of Champaign County (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 116, par. 211). The complaint alleged that the refusal to disclose the deleted information: (1) was inconsistent with the provisions of section 11-416 of the Illinois Vehicle Code (Code) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 95 1/2, par. 11-416), and section 7(d)(iv) of the FOIA (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 116, par. 207 (d)(iv)), which allow for the disclosure of such information; and (2) was contrary to public policy in that such refusal would foster unnecessary and unwarranted litigation. The complaint requested that the court enter an order enjoining the City from withholding the deleted information, requiring the City to produce the accident report in its entirety, and declaring that the plaintiff had a right of access to the report without any deletions whatsoever.

The plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment on July 12, 1988, alleging that there was no genuine issue as to any material fact and that under the proper interpretation of section 7(b)(v) of the FOIA (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 116, par. 207(b)(v)), plaintiff was entitled to injunctive and declaratory relief as a matter of law. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 110, par. 2-1005.) The City filed an answer to plaintiff's complaint on July 13, 1988. A hearing on plaintiff's motion for summary judgment was held on July 29, 1988.

In a written order filed September 9, 1988, the court entered summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff and against the City enjoining the City from withholding the information requested by the plaintiff. Further, the court declared that the plaintiff had a right of access to the report without any deletions and ordered the City to produce the requested report without deletions. In so ruling, the court found that there was no genuine issue of material fact and that the plaintiff was entitled to judgment as a matter of law in that disclosure of the deleted portions of the accident report would not constitute a "clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy" so as to exempt them from disclosure under the FOIA. The court reasoned that a reading of section 11-416 of the Code and section 7(d)(iv) of the FOIA indicated that the legislature did not intend such information to be exempt from disclosure under section 7(b)(v) of the FOIA. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 116, pars. 207(b)(v), 207(d)(iv); Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 95 1/2, par. 11-416.) The court noted that the City had no procedures to, nor did it, contact or obtain consent or the disclosure of such information from any person whose identity it sought to protect under section 7(b)(v) of the FOIA. The court also noted that the City received a significant number of FOIA requests for information and that there was no uniformity among the various jurisdictions within the State as to how the requests were handled. The City now appeals.

The City contends on appeal that disclosure of the names, addresses, and statements of witnesses contained in the traffic accident report would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of the witnesses and, therefore, such information is exempt from disclosure under section 7(b)(v) of the FOIA (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 116, par. 207(b)(v)). The plaintiff contends that a reading of the FOIA, together with a consideration of section 11-416 of the Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 95 1/2, par. 11-416), demonstrates that the trial court's decision was correct.

Under section 3 of the FOIA, "each public body shall make available to any person for inspection or copying all public records, except as otherwise provided in section 7 of this Act." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 116, par. 203.) Section 7 specifies certain ...


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