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Illinois Appellate Court Issues New FOIA-Related Ruling Regarding Unduly Burdensome Exemption

Education K-12 Education

The Illinois Appellate Court recently issued a new decision regarding the FOIA. In Kraft v. Chicago Police Department, the Court ruled in favor of the police department, finding it properly exempted records as unduly burdensome under the FOIA.   

In Kraft v. Chicago Police Department, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) received several FOIA requests for various records such as videos, reports, and communications, involving a police-involved shooting. CPD responded to each request within 24 hours, extending the time to respond to the requests by five business days pursuant to Section 3(e) of the FOIA and citing staff shortages due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. CPD also requested a mutually extended response period, which the requesters denied. When CPD responded to the requests, it produced some responsive records, but withheld other records pursuant to the unduly burdensome and pending police investigation FOIA exemptions. With respect to the unduly burdensome exemption, CPD noted that it discovered approximately 71 hours of responsive video footage, which, based upon prior experience, would require at least 213 hours to review. In addition, a search of potentially responsive emails returned approximately 30,000 emails for review, which CPD estimated would require a minimum of 1,000 hours to review. 

In response, the requesters filed suit in the Circuit Court, alleging that CPD improperly withheld the requested records, failed to conduct an adequate search for responsive records, and willfully and intentionally violated the FOIA. The Circuit Court granted summary judgment in favor of CPD, which plaintiffs appealed. The Appellate Court ultimately held that CPD properly established that the withheld records were exempt under Section 3(g) (unduly burdensome) of the FOIA.  

Prior to denying a request under the unduly burdensome exemption, the public body must extend to the requester an opportunity to attempt to narrow the request. The Court reasoned that CPD did so properly here by asking the requester to extend the response timeframe and by stating in the FOIA responses that the requests were denied under the unduly burdensome exemption “at this time.” The Court found that the use of the “at this time” language encouraged further review and resubmission of a narrowed request. Finally, the Court held that CPD established the strain the pandemic placed on staff and properly articulated the volume of material involved that was potentially responsive to the request, such that CPD appropriately asserted the unduly burdensome exemption under the FOIA.  

If you have questions regarding the FOIA, please reach out to the authors of this post or any Franczek attorney