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Thomas J. Brown, State's Attorney of Livingston v. Matthew E. Grosskopf and Lisa Madigan

February 13, 2013

THOMAS J. BROWN, STATE'S ATTORNEY OF LIVINGSTON
PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
MATTHEW E. GROSSKOPF AND LISA MADIGAN, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS,
DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from County, Circuit Court of Livingston County No. 11MR41 Honorable Stephen R. Pacey, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Appleton

Carla Bender 4th District Appellate

JUSTICE APPLETON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Steigmann and Justice Harris concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 Following a March 2012 hearing, the trial court granted defendant Attorney General of the State of Illinois Lisa Madigan's motion to dismiss, dismissing with prejudice plaintiff Livingston County State's Attorney Thomas J. Brown's lawsuit for declaratory relief. Brown appeals, arguing the trial court erred by finding the State's Attorney's office is a "public body" within the meaning of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (5 ILCS 140/1 to 11.5 (West 2010)) and, thus, subject to defendant Matthew E. Grosskopf's request to produce certain documents in accordance with FOIA. We affirm, but do so on the basis that there exists no actual controversy, as Brown lacks standing to bring a declaratory judgment lawsuit.

¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 3 On April 8, 2011, Brown filed a complaint for declaratory relief seeking a court determination as to whether the State's Attorney's office is a "public body" within the meaning of section 2 of FOIA (5 ILCS 140/2(a) (West 2010)). The complaint alleged that in February 2010, Grosskopf sent Brown's office a FOIA request for documents, transcripts, materials, memos, and photographs relating to a 2001 murder trial held in Livingston County. Brown denied the request, believing his office was not a "pubic body" subject to a FOIA request. Grosskopf appealed the denial to the Attorney General's Public Access Counselor (5 ILCS 140/9.5 (West 2010)), who, in March 2011, issued a letter finding that Brown's office "must disclose the requested documents to Mr. Grosskopf subject to the permissible redactions." Disputing the assistant Public Access Counselor's opinion, Brown claims ethical issues and the burden upon his office, coupled with concerns over the victim's privacy, distinguish his office from a "public body" within the meaning of FOIA and that his office should not be required to produce the requested information. Brown alleged in his complaint that "an actual controversy exists among the parties" with respect to the interpretation of the definition of "public body." 5 ILCS 140/2(a) (West 2010).

¶ 4 In July 2011, Grosskopf filed an answer to Brown's complaint and a counterclaim for declaratory and injunctive relief to enforce the assistant Public Access Counselor's "advisory opinion" and compel Brown to release the documents requested.

¶ 5 In September 2011, Madigan filed a motion to dismiss the complaint against her office pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2010)). In particular, she claimed Brown was unable to state a cause of action for declaratory relief since no actual controversy existed. She asserted that the letter from the assistant Public Access Counselor is a non-binding and non-reviewable opinion, meaning it cannot be the basis for an actual legal controversy.

¶ 6 In March 2012, the trial court conducted a hearing on Madigan's motion to dismiss and, after considering the arguments of counsel, took the matter under advisement. In April 2012, the court entered a written order, finding (1) Brown's office is a "public body" within the meaning of FOIA, (2) Madigan had "most likely create[d] an actual controversy" by the issuance of the assistant Public Access Counselor's letter, and (3) Brown's complaint was "based entirely on the proposition that his office is not a public body." Because the basis for Brown's complaint was, according to the court, an inaccurate statement of the law, the court dismissed the complaint with prejudice. The court found no just reason to delay an appeal and ordered Grosskopf's counterclaim stayed during the pendency of an appeal.

¶ 7 Brown filed a motion to reconsider and, after conducting a hearing on the matter, the trial court denied Brown's motion. This appeal followed.

¶ 8 II. ANALYSIS

¶ 9 Brown appeals the dismissal of his complaint, arguing the trial court erred in (1) granting Madigan's motion to dismiss and (2) finding the State's Attorney's office is a "public body," subject to FOIA. A section 2-615 motion (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2010)) attacks the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Carr v. Koch, 2012 IL 113414, ¶ 27.

"A motion to dismiss pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2000)) attacks the legal sufficiency of a complaint by alleging defects on the face of the complaint. [Citations.] In ruling on a section 2-615 motion, a court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts in the complaint and all reasonable inferences therefrom. [Citations.] The critical inquiry is whether the allegations of the complaint, when construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, ...


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