Appeal from Circuit Court of Sangamon County No. 06MR481 Honorable Leo J. Zappa, Jr., Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Steigmann
In August 2006, plaintiffs, Jerry Reppert and the Gazette Democrat, filed a complaint against defendants, Southern Illinois University (SIU) and SIU chancellor Walter V. Wendler, seeking disclosure of the employment contracts of several SIU employees. In October 2006, the trial court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment on plaintiffs' claim that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (5 ILCS 140/1 through 11 (West 2004)) compelled disclosure of the requested documents. In November 2006, the court granted defendants' motion to dismiss the remaining counts with prejudice.
Plaintiffs appeal, arguing that the trial court erred by granting summary judgment on their FOIA claim. We agree and reverse and remand for further proceedings.
The following facts were gleaned from the parties' pleadings and exhibits.
In March 2006, plaintiffs submitted a request to SIU under the FOIA for the following:
"1. Employment contracts covering the time period of January 1, 2000, to the present for [SIU] President Glenn Poshard, [f]ormer [SIU] President James Walker, [Wendler,] and [SIU] employees John Jackson and Mike Lawrence.
2. Independent contractor contracts, if applicable, covering the time period of January 1, 2000, to the present for [SIU] employees John Jackson and Mike Lawrence."
In April 2006, SIU denied plaintiffs' request, and plaintiffs appealed the denial. Wendler denied the appeal and informed plaintiffs of their right to appeal the denial through the judicial-review process.
In August 2006, plaintiffs filed a three-count complaint against defendants, seeking the disclosure of the documents in question. The complaint alleged as follows: (1) the Illinois Constitution required the disclosure of any contract that obligated the expenditure of public funds (count I), (2) the FOIA compelled disclosure of any such documents (count II), and (3) Wendler had a ministerial duty to release the documents to the public (count III).
In September 2006, defendants filed a motion to dismiss counts I and III of plaintiffs' complaint and a motion for summary judgment as to count II. In their summary-judgment motion, defendants argued that (1) the employment contracts were part of each employee's personnel file and (2) the contracts were thus per se exempt from disclosure under section 7(1)(b)(ii) of the FOIA (the personnel-file exemption) (5 ILCS 140/7(1)(b)(ii) (West 2004)). In October 2006, plaintiffs filed a response to the summary-judgment motion, arguing, in part, that the fact that the contracts were included in personnel files did not mean that they were exempt from disclosure under the FOIA. Later in October 2006, the trial court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment as to count II. In so doing, the court found that the requested employment contracts were exempt from disclosure under the FOIA, pursuant to the personnel-file exemption (5 ILCS 140/7(1)(b)(ii) (West 2004)). In November 2006, the court granted with prejudice defendants' motion to dismiss counts I and III.