“Reasonable Access” to Public Records Is a Question of Fact for Court to Decide

The Appellate Court of Illinois, Second District, recently held in Garlick v. Naperville Township, 2016 IL App (2d) 150381-U, that whether a requester has “reasonable access” to public records on a public bodies’ website under Section 8.5 of the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (5 ILCS 140/8.5) is a question of fact requiring judicial determination.

Under the recently amended Section 8.5 of FOIA, a public body may notify a requester of a public record that the public record is available online and to “direct the requester to the website where the record can be reasonably accessed” (emphasis added). The provision goes on to state that if the requestor “is unable to reasonably access the record online after being directed to the website … the requester may re-submit his or her request for the record stating his or her inability to reasonably access the record online, and the public body shall make the requested record available for inspection or copying as provided in Section 3 of this Act.” 5 ILCS 140/8.5(b).

In Garlick, the requester sought the full database of property tax parcel records from Naperville Township (the “Township”). The Township invoked Section 8.5 of FOIA and did not provide any records. Instead, the Township directed the requester to its website, which allows for a search on a parcel-by-parcel basis. The requester objected to the Township’s response and alleged that he would be required to conduct 32,000 searches and spend 2,600 hours compiling all the data he requested.

He then proceeded to file a complaint claiming that the Township violated Section 8.5 by not providing him “reasonable access” to the records he requested. In response, the Township filed a motion to dismiss the claim, alleging that the requester failed to properly plead a violation of Section 8.5. The trial court granted the Township’s motion to dismiss finding that it complied with Section 8.5, there was no information missing from the website, and that it would essentially just take the requester more time to get the information.

However, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision finding that “reasonable access” depends on each situation’s individual facts and circumstances.

The Garlick ruling emphasizes the litigation risk tied to FOIA issues. Contact Bob Kohn or Jeff Goelitz with your FOIA inquiries.

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