In October, the PAC released a written response to a FOIA request that it denied because it would be unduly burdensome under Section 3(g) of FOIA. 5 ILCS 140/3(g). The request asked for “Public Access Counselor determinations since 1 January 2010 to public bodies and requesters to provide guidance concerning the Open Meetings Act.” The PAC determined that producing such documents would require over 90 hours of reviewing and redacting exempted information from 1,819 responsive letters (3,638 pages).
The PAC noted that the public interest involved was outweighed by the burden on its office since the request was overly broad and required a vast quantity of material that is largely unnecessary to the requester’s purpose. In line with Section 3(g) of FOIA, the PAC did offer the requester an opportunity to narrow the scope of its request to be more manageable by suggesting that the requester limit their requests to specific, identified issues subject to review under the OMA.
Just two weeks later, the PAC issued a binding opinion finding that the Illinois Department of Transportation (“IDOT”) failed to respond to a FOIA request within the statutory timeline and improperly asserted the unduly burdensome exception.
In 2015 PAC 36548, IDOT received a FOIA request on July 11, 2015 for “all certified payrolls for projects awarded within Christian County from June 2014 to Present.” IDOT denied the request on July 22, 2015, submitting that it would be unduly burdensome because fulfilling the request would take a substantial number of labor hours and produce thousands of pages of records.
On review, the PAC found that IDOT violated the FOIA by failing to respond within five business days after receipt of the request without any evidence to suggest that it properly extended the time to respond. Since IDOT failed to respond in time, it was precluded from treating the request as unduly burdensome and was required to respond to the request in its entirety as submitted. 5 ILCS 140/3(d). Further, the PAC determined that IDOT’s assertion that producing such records would be unduly burdensome was without merit. Specifically, the PAC noted that the balancing test weighed in favor of the requester. The PAC found that compliance with the request should not require a specialized review of the records since the information that must be redacted is expressly stated in Section 2.10 of FOIA regarding payrolls. 5 ILCS 140/2.10.
These opinions establish that determining whether a request is unduly burdensome is not obvious. Public bodies should seek legal counsel before making that determination and must make and communicate that decision within the time frames set forth in the FOIA.