In a recent Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) decision, the Second District Appellate Court held that a public body was required to release redacted copies of records to a requester, even if it seemed that nothing useful remained after redactions. The case reminds public bodies of their duty to offer a FOIA requester the opportunity to narrow an unduly burdensome request before denying a request on that basis.
In Heinrich v. White, a FOIA requester, Paul Heinrich, sought access to administrative decisions issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The decisions inform drivers that their licenses have been suspended or revoked. The DMV denied the FOIA request because almost all of the information in the records sought was exempt under the Illinois Vehicle Code and as “private information” under the FOIA. The public body maintained that after exempt information was redacted, “nothing useful” would remain. When Heinrich filed suit in State court, the DMV also argued that it would be unduly burdensome to remove exempt information from the records.
The Appellate Court disagreed that a request could be denied simply because significant redactions would have to be made. The FOIA makes clear that unless it would be unduly burdensome to do so, a public body must provide redacted versions of documents. Moreover, the Appellate Court also refused to affirm dismissal of Heinrich’s lawsuit because the request was unduly burdensome. The public body failed to offer the requester an opportunity to narrow his request, and could not deny the request as unduly burdensome without offering such an opportunity.
The decision is an important reminder that public bodies should comply with the various technicalities of the FOIA law.