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Better Government Association v. The Village of Rosemont

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Second Division

June 27, 2017

BETTER GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
THE VILLAGE OF ROSEMONT, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court Of Cook County. No. 15 CH 1061 The Honorable Rita Novak, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE NEVILLE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Hyman and Justice Mason concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          NEVILLE JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 Better Government Association (BGA) made a request to see some contracts for use of entertainment venues owned by the Village of Rosemont. Rosemont produced the requested contracts, but it redacted from the contracts the rent and financial incentives, such as the distribution of revenue from food concessions. BGA filed a complaint under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (5 ILCS 140/1 et seq. (West 2014)), seeking an order requiring Rosemont to disclose the redacted portions of the contracts. The circuit court granted BGA's motion for summary judgment on the complaint. Rosemont appeals from the order requiring disclosure of the redacted terms of the contracts.

         ¶ 2 We hold that FOIA does not exempt from disclosure the rent Rosemont charged and the negotiated financial incentives Rosemont provided to the persons who sought to use Rosemont's facilities. Rosemont lacked authority to exempt from disclosure documents that FOIA required Rosemont to disclose. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

         ¶ 3 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 4 In 2014, Garth Brooks played a concert at Allstate Arena, which Rosemont owns and operates. Stacy St. Clair of the Chicago Tribune sent a request to Rosemont for all contracts related to Brooks's appearance at Allstate Arena. Rosemont redacted significant portions from the contracts it sent to St. Clair. On October 10, 2014, St. Clair filed with the Public Access Bureau of the Attorney General's Office a request for review of Rosemont's partial denial of her request for information.

         ¶ 5 On November 12, 2014, before the Attorney General issued an opinion concerning the request, Rosemont adopted Ordinance No. 2014-11-12, titled "An Ordinance Providing for the Protection of Confidential Financial and Proprietary Information Relating to the Operation of Village of Rosemont Entertainment Venues." Rosemont Ordinance No. 2014-11-12 (approved Nov. 12, 2014). The ordinance provides, "Notwithstanding *** the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, no officer or employee of the Village of Rosemont shall knowingly disclose confidential financial or proprietary information relating to any Amusement Event held or to be held at an Entertainment Venue." Rosemont Ordinance No. 2014-11-12 (approved Nov. 12, 2014). The ordinance defined "Entertainment Venues" to include Allstate Arena and the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center. Rosemont Ordinance No. 2014-11-12 (approved Nov. 12, 2014). The ordinance defined "Confidential Financial or Proprietary Information" to mean "information pertaining to the amount of money paid by a Producer to secure the use of an Entertainment Venue for production and presentation of an Amusement Event and any financial incentives, considerations or payments to be made to a Producer as an inducement to license or rent the Entertainment Venue for production and presentation of an Amusement Event." Rosemont Ordinance No. 2014-11-12 (approved Nov. 12, 2014).

         ¶ 6 Rosemont filed with the Public Access Bureau a response to St. Clair's request for review, asserting that the ordinance exempted from disclosure the redacted parts of the contracts with Brooks.

         ¶ 7 On November 13, 2014, the day after Rosemont adopted Ordinance 2014-11-12, the BGA requested from Rosemont all contracts for events held at Allstate Arena and the Convention Center in 2014. Rosemont sent BGA copies of the contracts, but it redacted from the contracts "confidential financial and proprietary information of the Village of Rosemont consisting of amounts paid as rent for use of the relevant entertainment venue for these events, and rebates or financial inducements, if any, paid by the Village of Rosemont for production and presentation of such amusement event[s] at the Allstate Arena or the Convention Center."

         ¶ 8 On January 22, 2015, BGA filed a complaint charging Rosemont with violating the FOIA. The complaint initiated the lawsuit now before this court. Rosemont answered that sections 7(1)(a) and 7(1)(g) of the FOIA (5 ILCS 104/7(1)(a), (g) (West 2014)), as well as Ordinance 2014-11-12, exempted the redacted portions of the contracts from disclosure.

         ¶ 9 Section 7(1) of the FOIA provides:

"(1) When a request is made to inspect or copy a public record that contains information that is exempt from disclosure under this Section, but also contains information that is not exempt from disclosure, the public body may elect to redact the information that is exempt. The public body shall make the remaining information available for inspection and copying. Subject to this requirement, the following shall be exempt from inspection and copying:
(a) Information specifically prohibited from disclosure by federal or State law or rules and regulations ...

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