The Illinois Appellate Court recently held that a public body may charge up to 15 cents for copying for each page of black and white, letter or legal sized documents responsive to a FOIA request, even if the actual cost of copying is lower. This case has important implications for public bodies because it allows them to charge a copying fee for such copies that is greater than the actual cost of reproduction, as long as it is not more than the 15 cents limit set by the statute. For any color or nonstandard sized copies, a public body must continue to charge the actual cost of copying. The court’s decision also clarified that public bodies are not required to respond to a FOIA request through any particular mode of delivery and that the law does not require that a requester receive a FOIA response within the statutory timeframes, as long as the FOIA response is sent by the public body within those timeframes.
In Shehadeh v. Illinois Department of Corrections, an inmate at IDOC was charged 15 cents per page for black and white copies of documents responsive to a FOIA request. He submitted a subsequent request asking for IDOC’s actual cost for copying such records, and was told that the cost was less than seven cents per page. The inmate sued, alleging, among other things, that IDOC was violating a provision of FOIA that allows public bodies to “charge fees reasonably calculated to reimburse [the] actual cost for reproducing and certifying public records and for the use, by any person, of the equipment of the public body to copy records.” 5 ILCS 140/6(b) (emphasis added). The trial court held that the fee of 15 cents was reasonable and dismissed the inmate’s claim. On Appeal, the Illinois Appellate Court agreed. The Appellate Court noted that the FOIA specifically allows up to a 15 cents fee, and that such a fee is thus “plainly reasonable and permissible under the plain language…of the FOIA.”
The Appellate Court also affirmed dismissal of the other issues raised by the inmate in his lawsuit—that IDOC violated FOIA by: (1) failing to send its response letter by U.S. Mail, instead using an internal communications system customarily used with inmates; and (2) because the response was not received by the deadline for responses under the FOIA. The Appellate Court explained that because the FOIA does not require a particular mode of delivery for responses to FOIA requests, a public body is not required to send a FOIA response in any particular manner. The Appellate Court also explained that a public body complies with the timelines of FOIA if it sends the FOIA response by the FOIA deadline, regardless of whether the requester receives the response by that date.