FOIA: Illinois Appellate Court Sanctions Repeat-Filer
In a rare move, an Illinois Appellate Court recently upheld sanctions against a repeat FOIA litigant in Garlick v. Bloomingdale Township. This case occurred in two phases. In the first – Garlick I – Garlick requested the Township provide him with certain electronic property parcel records in their native file format. The Township denied the request as the information was available on its web portal. Garlick, in turn, sued the township alleging he did not receive the information in the requested format. Ultimately, the Township provided the information to Garlick in the requested format and the case was dismissed as moot. Garlick appealed, however, arguing that, although it was in the proper format, the data he received was insufficient as it only included data available on the web portal, not the entire property-assessment database. The Appellate Court discredited this argument based on Garlick’s initial request and upheld dismissal.
Shortly thereafter, Garlick submitted a new FOIA request to the Township, seeking “all publicly disclosable data within the Township’s property-assessment software.” Then, three days later, Garlick sent the Township an “addendum” in which he specified that he wanted the data in its native file format. The Township provided Garlick with the requested data in the same format as the Garlick I disclosures. Weeks later, Garlick sent the Township a second “addendum” in which he stated the data he received was not in the correct format. The Township responded that it had requested the database be exported again and that it would provide the data within 5 days. Before the Township could provide Garlick with the requested data, Garlick sued the Township – Garlick II – alleging the Township did not comply with the request.
At trial, the Township argued that Garlick’s FOIA request had been answered and that the addendums constituted separate additional requests which were not denied. The Township also argued that Garlick’s lawsuit was harassing and not warranted under the law. As such, the Township moved for the case to be dismissed and for sanctions to be issued for filing a frivolous case. The trial court agreed that the case was frivolous and granted the Township’s motion, awarding sanctions in the amount of $31,336.50. Garlick appealed, but the Illinois Appellate Court again held that the case was properly dismissed. The court further affirmed the sanctions, commenting that “[w]e are at a loss as to why plaintiff continued to pursue this claim other than for nefarious reasons.”
The plaintiff’s conduct, in this case, was particularly unreasonable, and it is rare that a court will impose sanctions on an unrepresented party. This case, however, demonstrates that, depending on the egregiousness of the conduct, there may be available relief for public bodies who find themselves consistently defending against unwarranted lawsuits. Moreover, the decision, in this case, may serve as a cautionary tale for future litigants.