In a case successfully argued before the Illinois Supreme Court by HLERK’s Jeff Goelitz, the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously agreed that Consolidated High School District 230 (“District 230”) acted properly in denying the Better Government Association’s (“BGA”) FOIA request for IHSA records.
At issue in the case, BGA v. IHSA and CHSD 230, were the BGA’s FOIA requests for IHSA contracts for accounting, legal, sponsorship, public relations/crisis communications services, and all IHSA licensed vendor applications from 2012 to 2014. The IHSA responded to the BGA’s FOIA request by stating that it is not a “public body” and therefore not subject to FOIA.
The BGA then submitted a virtually identical FOIA request to District 230, asking it to obtain and produce the IHSA’s records. The BGA argued that the IHSA is essentially a contractor of District 230 under Section 7(2) of FOIA, which requires certain contractor records to be considered records of the public body. District 230 declined to attempt to obtain the records from the IHSA, as it believed the request did not trigger its obligation under Section 7(2) of FOIA.
The BGA then sued both the IHSA and District 230. Both the IHSA and District 230 filed motions to dismiss in the trial court, and both were successful. The appellate court and, ultimately, the Illinois Supreme Court agreed that dismissal of the claims was proper. (We previously reported on the appellate decision in July 2016.)
Most notably for school districts in Illinois, the Supreme Court concluded that the IHSA does not perform a governmental function on behalf of school districts, so District 230 was not obligated to attempt to obtain the records from the IHSA and produce them to the BGA. Thus, school districts cannot be used as a conduit for access to IHSA records.
As the first case of its kind to be litigated under the new FOIA statute (including Section 7(2) of FOIA, which took effect in 2010), this decision sets important precedent for public bodies and third parties contracting with public bodies. In light of this decision, public bodies that receive FOIA requests for records in the possession of their third-party contractors would be well advised to contact legal counsel before responding to the request.
For questions concerning FOIA, contact Steve Richart or Jeff Goelitz.