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May 1, 1997


Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Fifth District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Jackson County, the Hon. David W. Watt, Jr., Judge, presiding.

The Honorable Justice Harrison delivered the opinion of the court.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Harrison

The Honorable Justice HARRISON delivered the opinion of the court:

The issue in this case is whether the Freedom of Information Act (Act) (5 ILCS 140/1 et seq. (West 1994)) requires Southern Illinois University (SIU) to provide the owner of an apartment building approved by the University for freshman students with a list containing the names and addresses of individuals who had contacted the University about freshman housing. The circuit court held that SIU did not have to give the building's owner access to this information and granted summary judgment in favor of the University. The appellate court reversed and remanded with directions to enter summary judgment against SIU and in favor of the building's owner. 279 Ill. App. 3d 553, 664 N.E.2d 1155, 216 Ill. Dec. 227. We granted SIU's petition for leave to appeal (155 Ill. 2d R. 315) and now affirm the appellate court's judgment.

Summary judgment is proper where

"the pleadings, depositions, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." 735 ILCS 5/2-1005(c) (West 1994).

In this case, the record discloses the following facts. SIU requires unmarried freshmen under the age of 21 who do not live with their parents to reside either in a University dormitory on campus or in privately owned off-campus housing approved by the University. Stan Lieber, the plaintiff in this case, owns a University-approved off-campus housing facility known as the Stevenson Arms.

In the past the University supplied Lieber and other owners of approved off-campus housing with information about incoming freshmen so that the owners could contact them directly with information about their respective housing units. They also routinely supplied mailing labels containing names and addresses of incoming students to the Southern Illinoisan, a Carbondale newspaper, and to various religious organizations. In addition, the University honored requests from various state representatives for the names and addresses of SIU students who resided in their legislative districts, and it provided numerous other educational institutions with information about students who had transferred from those institutions to SIU, including social security numbers, academic major, and number of hours of study completed.

In the spring of 1992, SIU sent a letter to the manager of the Stevenson Arms noting that enrollment at the University was declining and that occupancy rates in student housing had dropped, resulting in more competition between the various housing providers. The University cautioned the Stevenson Arms about the need to clear its advertisements and promotions with the University. It also placed the facility on notice that it would no longer include brochures on approved off-campus housing for freshmen in the materials mailed out by the University's Central Housing Office. According to the University, owners of approved off-campus housing would be required to rely on their own resources for advertising and publicity.

Subsequent to this correspondence, the University became uncooperative in releasing the names and addresses of incoming students to the Stevenson Arms. As a result, Lieber, the owner, filed formal requests for the information in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act. The requests were filed in October and November of 1992. The University granted Lieber's request with respect to freshmen enrolled in the fall of 1992. In addition, according to answers to interrogatories given on behalf of SIU by its vice president of student affairs, the University provided the manager of the Stevenson Arms with lists of freshmen who had been accepted for the following academic year.

In January of 1993, SIU officially discontinued the practice of providing the names and addresses of accepted students to owners of approved off-campus housing, citing "the need to develop a consistent approach on providing information for all owners and assure compliance with the law and University policy on release of student information." Instead of releasing information about the prospective students to the private owners, SIU advised that it would send information supplied by the private owners to the incoming students, and to any others who requested information about freshman housing, along with information about the on-campus housing opportunities provided by the University itself.

Following the change in policy, Leiber was given at least one additional list of freshmen admitted for the 1993-94 academic year. After the University's vice president of student affairs discovered this, he directed that the new policy be implemented and that address labels not be given to any landlords of approved off-campus housing for freshmen. Employees of the Stevenson Arms subsequently provided the University with materials on their facility, but the University returned a substantial amount of the materials without including them in its mailings, contrary to the representations it had made.

Leiber responded by filing another Freedom of Information Act request to obtain address list information for individuals who had inquired about freshman housing for the coming academic year, including inquiries from accepted freshmen, so he could do the mailings himself, as he had before. By letter dated April 15, 1993, the president of SIU denied Lieber's request, claiming (1) that the Freedom of Information Act does not require release of information to be used for furthering a commercial enterprise and (2) that address list information for accepted freshmen is exempt from disclosure because the release of student information is restricted by federal law. Although the letter did not cite the pertinent statutory provision, the president's reference to federal law was clearly meant to invoke section 7(1)(a) of the Act (5 ILCS 140/7(1)(a) (West 1994)), which exempts from inspection and copying "information specifically prohibited from disclosure by federal or State law."

Lieber sought judicial review of the president's decision by filing suit for injunctive relief in the circuit court of Jackson County pursuant to section 11 of the Act (5 ILCS 140/11 (West 1994)). In the circuit court, SIU abandoned its claim that federal law barred disclosure of the names and addresses of admitted freshmen who had inquired about housing. Instead, it challenged Leiber's lawsuit on the grounds that such information is exempt from disclosure under a separate provision, section 7(1)(b) (5 ILCS 140/7(1)(b) (West 1994)), because it constitutes personal information maintained with respect to students or other individuals receiving educational services from a public body. *fn1 SIU also contended that Lieber is not entitled to relief under the statute because he is seeking the information for commercial ...

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