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Johnson v. The Joliet Police Department

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

June 19, 2018

MACEO JOHNSON, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
THE JOLIET POLICE DEPARTMENT, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 12th Judicial Circuit, Will County, Illinois, Circuit No. 17-MR-0673 Honorable Arkadiusz Z. Smigielski, Judge, Presiding.

          JUSTICE O'BRIEN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Carter and Justice Wright concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          O'BRIEN, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Plaintiff, Maceo Johnson, filed a lawsuit seeking injunctive relief after defendant, the Joliet Police Department, denied a request made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (5 ILCS 140/1 et seq. (West 2016)). The Will County circuit court dismissed the complaint. On appeal, plaintiff argues that he was entitled to the requested records under FOIA. We affirm.

         ¶ 2 FACTS

         ¶ 3 On January 27, 2017, plaintiff delivered a FOIA request to defendant seeking "[disciplinary history for employee Don McKinney." In a responsive letter, defendant wrote: "It is unclear what you mean by 'disciplinary history', but we took this to mean discipline imposed from citizen complaints." Defendant also cited in its letter section 8 of the Personnel Record Review Act (Review Act) (820 ILCS 40/8 (West 2016)), which provides that an employer shall delete "records of disciplinary action which are more than 4 years old" before turning such records over to a third party. Defendant also wrote that "Donald McKinney does not have any citizen complaint[s] filed against him."

         ¶ 4 Plaintiff, in turn, wrote a letter to defendant, arguing that the Review Act had been construed to not apply to requests made under FOIA. He also clarified his request, stating: "I am requesting any records related to discipline concerning employee McKinney: disciplinary reports, complaints made by anyone (not just public citizens), letters of reprimand or any other records of disciplinary action." In a second responsive letter, defendant explained that it possessed no records of the type described by plaintiff within the last four years.

         ¶ 5 Plaintiff subsequently filed suit in the circuit court, arguing that the Review Act did not apply to FOIA requests. In the suit, plaintiff sought injunctive relief compelling defendant to provide the requested records. He also prayed for a civil penalty against defendant for the improper denial of his request. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that the Review Act prevented it from delivering any of the records requested.[1] The circuit court granted defendant's motion and dismissed the complaint with prejudice.

         ¶ 6 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 7 On appeal, plaintiff continues to argue that the Review Act does not exempt the records in question and thus maintains that the circuit court erred in dismissing his complaint. Defendant concedes on appeal that it does have "disciplinary records" for McKinney relating to two incidents occurring in 2010 and 2012. Those records do not, however, include any citizen complaints. Defendant argues that the Review Act dictates that those records from outside the four-year window may not be disclosed pursuant to a FOIA request.

         ¶ 8 Section 1.2 of FOIA provides that "[a]ll records in the custody or possession of a public body are presumed to be open to inspection or copying. Any public body that asserts that a record is exempt from disclosure has the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that it is exempt." 5 ILCS 140/1.2 (West 2016). Section 7(1)(a) of FOIA states: "[T]he following shall be exempt from inspection and copying: (a) Information specifically prohibited from disclosure by federal or State law or rules and regulations implementing federal or State law." Id. § 7(1)(a). Finally, section 7.5 of FOIA reads: "Statutory exemptions. To the extent provided for by the statutes referenced below, the following shall be exempt from inspection and copying: *** (q) Information prohibited from being disclosed by the Personnel Records Review Act." Id. § 7.5(q).

         ¶ 9 Section 8 of the Review Act provides that "An employer shall review a personnel record before releasing information to a third party and, except when the release is ordered to a party in a legal action or arbitration, delete disciplinary reports, letters of reprimand, or other records of disciplinary action which are more than 4 years old." 820 ILCS 40/8 (West 2016). The Review Act also dictates that "This Act shall not be construed to diminish a right of access to records already otherwise provided by law, provided that disclosure of performance evaluations under the [FOIA] shall be prohibited." Id. § 11.

         ¶ 10 Initially, we find that the records presently in question are the types of disciplinary records contemplated by section 8 of the Review Act. While plaintiff also requested records of complaints made against McKinney, defendant explicitly responded that no such complaints existed, without reference to the four-year time span. The remainder of plaintiff's request, the portion at issue in this appeal, concerned "disciplinary reports, letters of reprimand, or other records of disciplinary action"[2] regarding McKinney. As plaintiff's request perfectly tracked the language of section 8 of the Review Act, there can be no dispute that any records in question would fall under the ambit of that section.

         ¶ 11 Putting aside momentarily section 11 of the Review Act, it is also clear that section 7.5(q) of FOIA and section 8 of the Review Act would serve to render the records in question exempt from disclosure. Section 8 of the Review Act dictates that disciplinary records more than four years old may not be turned over to a third party. Section 7.5(q) of FOIA holds that the prohibitions found in the Review Act are applicable to FOIA requests. Thus, ...


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