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Shehadeh v. Madigan

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

October 4, 2013

JAMAL SHEHADEH, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
LISA MADIGAN, Illinois Attorney General, Defendant-Appellee.

Held [*]

Summary judgment was properly entered for the Attorney General in plaintiff’s action challenging the Attorney General’s claim that complying with plaintiff’s request under the Freedom of Information Act for copies of publications or other records that could provide guidance in complying with Freedom of Information Act laws would be unduly burdensome, since a request that is overly broad and requires the location and inspection of a vast quantity of material largely unnecessary to the requestor’s purpose is an undue burden, the Act did not require the Attorney General’s office to prove the adequacy of its search, plaintiff’s refusal to narrow his request did not bar the Attorney General from continuing to assert the unduly burdensome exemption, and the statute itself is the primary source of guidance on the issue of compliance with the Act.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Sangamon County, No. 12-MR-248, the Hon. John Schmidt, Judge, presiding.

Jamal Shehadeh, of Taylorville, appellant pro se.

Lisa Madigan, Attorney General, of Chicago (Michael A. Scodro, Solicitor General, and Laura M. Wunder, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel), for appellee.

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

OPINION

WHITE JUSTICE HOLDER

¶ 1 In March 2012, plaintiff, Jamal Shehadeh, filed a complaint pursuant to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (5 ILCS 140/1 to 11.5 (West 2012)), alleging the Attorney General was improperly withholding records. The previous month, plaintiff had requested from the Attorney General "copies of any publications, opinions, reports or other records that would or could be used for guidance by [the Attorney General's] office or any other public body in complying with Illinois' FOIA laws." The Attorney General responded that complying with plaintiff's request would be unduly burdensome under section 3(g) of FOIA. 5 ILCS 140/3(g) (West 2012). Following an August 2012 hearing, the circuit court granted the Attorney General's motion for summary judgment, dismissing plaintiff's complaint.

¶ 2 Plaintiff appeals, arguing the circuit court erred by granting summary judgment because (1) the Attorney General did not prove its search for records was adequate, (2) FOIA did not obligate plaintiff to narrow the scope of his search, and (3) the Attorney General failed to show the production of plaintiff's requested records would unduly burden its operations.

¶ 3 We affirm.

¶ 4 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 5 On February 11, 2012, plaintiff sent a letter to the Attorney General's office, requesting records pursuant to FOIA. Specifically, plaintiff sought "copies of any publications, opinions, reports or other records that would or could be used for guidance by [the Attorney General's] office or any other public body in complying with Illinois' FOIA laws." A file stamp indicates the Attorney General's office received plaintiff's letter on February 16, 2012. On February 24, 2012, a FOIA officer at the Attorney General's office sent plaintiff a response, stating the office had determined producing copies of all records that would or could be used as guidance would be unduly burdensome under section 3(g) of FOIA (5 ILCS 140/3(g) (West 2012)). According to the officer, a search of the Attorney General's records retrieved over 9, 200 potentially responsive files and complying with plaintiff's request would be unduly burdensome because staff would have to go through each file by hand to determine which records were responsive and then review and redact information from those responsive records to protect against the release of exempt information. The officer requested plaintiff narrow the scope of his request "to bring it within manageable proportions pursuant to section 3(g) of the FOIA." Specifically, the officer asked plaintiff to provide "information regarding those FOIA issues or the particular exemptions for which [plaintiff sought] guidance."

¶ 6 On February 27, 2012, plaintiff responded to the FOIA officer's letter by mail, stating that, pursuant to section 3(d) of FOIA, the Attorney General's office could not assert the unduly burdensome exemption or request that plaintiff narrow his search because the office received plaintiff's letter on February 16, 2012, nine days before the office sent its response. Plaintiff stated that "[e]ven excluding weekends and holidays, " the office failed to "comply with the five day requirement." Plaintiff further asserted he did not believe his request was too broad, but rather, that the office was "attempting to circumvent [its] obligations under the FOIA." Plaintiff asked that the Attorney General provide him copies of his February 11, 2012, and February 27, 2012, letters as well as the records he had requested.

ΒΆ 7 Before the FOIA officer responded to plaintiff, on February 28, 2012, plaintiff sent a letter to the Attorney General's Public Access Counselor (Counselor), requesting the Counselor review the FOIA officer's actions. In his letter, plaintiff again asserted the FOIA officer failed to respond to his ...


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