APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY. HONORABLE ARTHUR L. DUNNE, JUDGE PRESIDING.
Presiding Justice Hoffman delivered the opinion of the court: Cahill and Theis, JJ., concur.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hoffman
PRESIDING JUSTICE HOFFMAN delivered the opinion of the court:
The plaintiff, Local 1274, Illinois Federation of Teachers, AFT, AFL-CIO, brought this action against the defendant, Niles Township High School District 219, seeking to obtain information regarding the District's parents and students pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (the Act) (5 ILCS 140/1 et seq. (West 1992)). On cross summary judgment motions, the court granted judgment for the defendant on the basis that the plaintiff had failed to exhaust grievance procedures under its collective bargaining agreement. The plaintiff appeals, contending that (1) the court erred in ruling that it must attempt to obtain the desired information under its collective bargaining agreement prior to bringing suit under the Act; and (2) it is entitled to the desired information under the provisions of the Act.
In its complaint, the plaintiff alleged that in written correspondence, it had requested that the defendant make available a computer disc containing all the names and addresses of the parents and students comprising School District 219. The plaintiff alleged that it needed this information in order to conduct surveys and otherwise communicate with the school community "in the preparation of [the plaintiff's] collective bargaining proposals." The defendant allegedly denied the plaintiff's request on the grounds that (1) a computer disc containing such information did not currently exist; (2) the defendant did not consider the information subject to disclosure, because the Board of Education had not designated it as "directory information" under the Student Records Act (104 ILCS 10/6 (West 1992)); and (3) the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act (115 ILCS 5/1 et seq. (West 1992)) precluded the plaintiff from entitlement to the information. Claiming that these reasons were insufficient to refuse production under the Act, the plaintiff sought a court order that the requested information be produced.
The parties submitted cross-motions for summary judgment.* (735 ILCS 5/2-1005 (West 1992).) The defendant's motion raised several defenses under the Act. Specifically, the defendant argued that the requested information was not maintained as a "public record" within the meaning of Act section 2(c) (5 ILCS 140/2(c) (West 1992)); that the desired relief was outside the court's jurisdiction as defined in section 11(a) of the Act; and that the release of such information would be an unwarranted invasion of the students' privacy. Alternatively, the defendant alleged that the plaintiff had failed to exhaust remedies under its collective bargaining agreement. In particular, the agreement provided for the plaintiff's right to obtain information for use in collective bargaining, and contained a four-step grievance procedure in the event of any "violation or misinterpretation" of its provisions.
Following a hearing, the trial court entered an order granting summary judgment for the defendant. Without reaching the merits of the claim under the Act, the court determined that access to the information sought by the plaintiff was controlled under the collective bargaining agreement (hereinafter the agreement), and that, therefore, the plaintiff was required to exhaust its contractual remedies before proceeding with its claim under the Act. The instant appeal followed.
On appeal, the plaintiff argues that the court erred in determining that its right to information under the Act was contingent upon it first seeking relief under the agreement. Specifically, the plaintiff points out that (1) the Act contains no requirement for exhaustion of remedies prior to the initiation of a claim, and (2) the plaintiff's claim under the Act constitutes a separate and independent statutory claim that is not subject to the terms of the agreement.
At the time in question, the agreement contained the following relevant provisions:
"Section 1. Grievance - Purpose. The primary purpose of this procedure is to secure the lowest level possible equitable solution to the problem of the parties.
Section 2. Grievance - Defined. A grievance shall mean a complaint that there has been a violation or misinterpretation of any of the provisions of this AGREEMENT.
Section 14. UNION'S Right to Information. The BOARD shall furnish the UNION with the following documents and kinds of information as they are received, ...