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Uphoff v. Grosskopf

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

December 12, 2013

SETH P. UPHOFF, State's Attorney of Livingston County, Plaintiff and Counterdefendant-Appellant,
v.
MATTHEW E. GROSSKOPF, Defendant and Counterplaintiff-Appellee.

Held [*]

An order granting defendant’s request under the Freedom of Information Act for the production of documents relating to a 2001 murder trial prosecuted by the office of plaintiff State’s Attorney was reversed on the ground that State’s Attorney’s office is a “public body” for purposes of the Act and is exempt from complying with the Act.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Livingston County, No. 11-MR-41; the Hon. Stephen R. Pacey, Judge, presiding.

Seth Uphoff (argued), State’s Attorney, of Pontiac (Randy A. Yedinak, Assistant State’s Attorney, of counsel), for appellant.

Donald M. Craven and Esther J. Seitz (argued), both of Donald M. Craven, P.C., of Springfield, for appellee.

Lisa Madigan, Attorney General, of Chicago (Michael A. Scodro, Solicitor General, and Jane Elinor Notz, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel), amicus curiae.

OPINION

STEIGMANN, JUSTICE

¶1 Plaintiff, Seth P. Uphoff, the Livingston County State's Attorney, appeals from the trial court's order granting summary judgment in favor of defendant, Matthew Grosskopf. The court ordered Uphoff to produce documents to Grosskopf pursuant to his request under the Freedom of Information Act (hereinafter FOIA) (5 ILCS 140/1 to 11.5 (West 2010)). For the reasons that follow, we reverse.

¶2 I. BACKGROUND

¶3 In February 2010, Grosskopf sent Thomas Brown, who was then the Livingston County State's Attorney, a FOIA request for documents relating to a 2001 murder trial conducted in Livingston County. Brown denied the request, and Grosskopf appealed to the Attorney General's Public Access Counselor, who issued a letter finding that Brown was required to disclose the documents requested by Grosskopf, subject to permissible redactions.

¶4 In April 2011, Brown filed a complaint for declaratory relief, seeking a court determination as to whether the State's Attorney's office was a "public body" within the meaning of section 2 of FOIA (5 ILCS 140/2(a) (West 2010)). Brown named Grosskopf and Lisa Madigan, in her capacity as Illinois Attorney General, as defendants. Grosskopf answered the complaint and filed a counterclaim to compel Brown's compliance with the Public Access Counselor's advisory opinion. Madigan filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that Brown was unable to state a cause of action for declaratory relief because no actual controversy existed. Specifically, Madigan asserted that the Public Access Counselor's letter was a nonbinding and nonreviewable opinion, meaning it could not form the basis of an actual legal controversy. The trial court later granted Madigan's motion to dismiss.

¶5 Brown appealed, and this court affirmed. Brown v. Grosskopf, 2013 IL App (4th) 120402, ¶15, 984 N.E.2d 1167.

¶6 Following this court's decision, the trial court amended the caption to reflect the named plaintiff and counterdefendant, Seth P. Uphoff, who is the current Livingston County State's Attorney. Grosskopf filed a motion for summary judgment on his surviving counterclaim. After a May 2013 hearing, the court ruled in Grosskopf's favor and granted summary judgment. The court concluded that FOIA applied to State's Attorneys and ordered the requested documents be released to Grosskopf.

¶7 This appeal followed.

¶8 II. ANALYSIS

¶9 Uphoff argues that the trial court erred by concluding that a State's Attorney's office is a "public body" within the meaning of FOIA. Uphoff asserts that the office instead is a part of the judicial branch of state government and, therefore, exempt from complying with FOIA. Because we conclude that a State's Attorney's office is a "judicial body, " we agree with Uphoff that it is exempt under FOIA.

¶10 A. The Standard of Review

¶11 When reviewing an order granting summary judgment, this court determines whether the case presents any genuine issues of material fact. If not, then we decide whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. We review de novo the trial court's grant of summary judgment. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. v. Hamer, 2013 IL 114234, ¶17, 990 N.E.2d 1144.

¶12 B. Statutory Interpretation

¶13 In Relf v. Shatayeva, 2013 IL 114925, ¶¶23, 39, the Illinois Supreme Court recently discussed the principles governing statutory interpretation and wrote the following:

"The primary goal in construing a statute is to ascertain and give effect to the legislature's intent. The best indication of that intent is the language of the statute. [Citation.] In construing that language, words and phrases should not be considered in isolation. Rather, the language in each section of the statute must be examined in light of the statute as a whole, which is ...

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