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Bocock v. Will County Sheriff

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

March 27, 2018

CHARLES BOCOCK, Plaintiff-Appellant,
WILL COUNTY SHERIFF, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 12th Judicial Circuit, Will County, Illinois, Circuit Nos. 15-CH-976, 15-CH-1052, 16-MR-2527 Honorable Arkadiusz Z. Smigielski, Judge, Presiding.

          JUSTICE WRIGHT delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Holdridge and Lytton concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 Plaintiff, Charles Bocock, was a pretrial detainee at the Will County Adult Detention Facility (WCADF) during 2015 and 2016. During this time period, plaintiff requested numerous records from WCADF through the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (5 ILCS 140/1 et seq. (West 2014)). The WCADF did not comply with plaintiffs various requests for information. Those denials resulted in three separate lawsuits filed by plaintiff against the Will County Sheriff (defendant). Plaintiff now appeals the adverse ruling in all three cases and the three separate appeals have now been consolidated for purposes of this appeal. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.

         ¶ 2 FACTS

         ¶ 3 I. Plaintiff's First Complaint

         ¶ 4 On April 10, 2015, plaintiff filed a complaint, followed by an amended complaint (first amended complaint) on June 23, 2015, in Will County case No. 15-CH-976. The first amended complaint alleged defendant improperly denied five FOIA requests initiated by plaintiff. The first amended complaint contained five counts-tracking the original five FOIA requests-with each count seeking both an injunction compelling defendant to produce the requested documents and civil penalties for the alleged willful and intentional failure to comply with FOIA. Count V of plaintiff's first amended complaint is the only count relevant to this consolidated appeal. In count V, plaintiff alleged he filed a FOIA request on March 22, 2015, seeking "Documentation showing the brand, product name, ingredients, nutrition information, expiration / best by date of the milk drink served on the morning of 3/21/15." Plaintiff alleged he received the following response to his request:

"The [WCADF] Food Service personnel have advised that the milk drink served on 3/21/15 was a commodity and there was only enough for one meal. Food Service personnel have checked all of the commodities and determined that they no longer possess any of the product or any labeling or product information from the milk drink."

         Plaintiff further alleged defendant failed to "search any of its garbage or trash receptacles or Dumpsters for remaining containers from the milk drink."

         ¶ 5 Defendant filed a motion to dismiss count V of plaintiff's first amended complaint on two grounds. First, defendant claimed that a used milk container did not qualify as a public record and could "more accurately [be] defined as refuse or garbage, as they are part of food items served to pre-trial detainees at the facility." Alternatively, even if the refuse could be considered a public record, defendant argued that "[c]ombing through days old garbage *** would impose undue burden."

         ¶ 6 Plaintiff filed a reply to defendant's motion to dismiss. In his reply, plaintiff stated that the milk container was on WCADF premises at the time of his FOIA request, albeit in the garbage. In addition, plaintiff conceded that the packaging for the used milk carton was no longer in defendant's possession, mooting his request for injunctive relief.

         ¶ 7 Following a hearing held on February 11, 2016, the circuit court dismissed count V of plaintiff's first amended complaint, finding that the milk container was not a public record. However, the court denied defendant's motion to dismiss, in part, and ordered defendant to answer the first three counts of plaintiff's first amended complaint.

         ¶ 8 II. Plaintiff's Second Complaint

         ¶ 9 Plaintiff filed a separate 11-count complaint (second complaint) on June 23, 2015, Will County case No. 15-CH-1052, pertaining to the denial of previous FOIA requests made by plaintiff for records that were unrelated to those records relevant to the pending lawsuit in Will County case No. 15-CH-976. Once again, plaintiff sought injunctive relief compelling defendant to produce the requested documents, and assess civil penalties against defendant on each count. It is undisputed that defendant denied each of plaintiff's FOIA requests.

         ¶ 10 The circuit court's rulings on counts VI, X, and XI are the only rulings at issue in the present appeal. Count VI of plaintiff's second complaint pertained to plaintiff's FOIA request seeking a "List of all lockdown dates/times/durations/reasons during March 2015" (lockdown documents). In Defendant's answer to plaintiff's second complaint, defendant asserted the records requested in count VI were exempt under FOIA, in that giving an inmate information regarding lockdowns "would present a danger to security within the WCADF." See id. § 7(1)(e).

         ¶ 11 Count X of plaintiff's second complaint alleged plaintiff made a FOIA request seeking "All documentation (e.g. emails, grievances) regarding detainee Christopher Conway's last/stolen books, including amount paid in compensation for the loss" (Conway documents). In the answer to count X, defendant asserted the requested documents were exempt under FOIA (see id. § 7(1)(c)) in that disclosure to plaintiff would violate Conway's privacy interest in his private personal information. See id. § 7(1)(e).

         ¶ 12 Count XI of plaintiff's second complaint alleged plaintiff made a FOIA request seeking a copy of the WCADF "Policies and Procedures" manual (policy manual). In the answer to count XI, defendant asserted the policy manual was exempt for security purposes.

         ¶ 13 Furthermore, plaintiff alleged that after his request for the policy manual was denied, plaintiff submitted the case to the Illinois Attorney General's Public Access Counselor for further review. See id. § 9.5(a) (proving that a person whose FOIA request is denied may file a request for review by the Public Access Counselor). After conducting a confidential review of the manual, the Public Access Counselor found that while certain portions of the policy manual (often regarding the location of weapons or the intake and movement of inmates) were exempt from FOIA and subject to redaction, the policy manual as a whole was not exempt from FOIA. The nonbinding determination letter prepared by the Public Access Counselor concluded defendant should provide plaintiff with the redacted policy manual, but declined to issue a binding opinion. Defendant also admitted to the existence and substance of the Public Access Counselor's letter, but answered these allegations by observing the letter was not intended to be binding.

         ¶ 14 In an order dated July 19, 2016, the court agreed to review in camera documents pertaining to the dates and times of lockdowns and documents pertaining to WCADF's compensation for Conway's books. Defendant also submitted a number of Bates-stamped documents for the court's in camera review.

         ¶ 15 On July 22, 2016, the court entered an order that began: "Cause comes on for entry of order consistent with the court's ruling in open court on July 19, 2016." The court ordered defendant to produce a list of the times and dates of lockdowns occurring in March 2015, but ruled that information relating to the reasons for or durations of the lockdowns was exempt. The court ruled the Conway documents exempt in full based on Conway's privacy interests and plaintiff's lack of legitimate interest in the documents. In an order dated July 27, 2016, with regard to the policy manual, the court wrote: "Jail operations manual is exempt in total, with exception of bates # 0-05." As none ...

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