In Greer v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago, 2021 IL App (1st) 200429, the appellate court found that reviewing 28,000 pages of records responsive to a FOIA request was not unduly burdensome.
On October 12, 2018, Tyrone Greer (“Greer”) submitted a FOIA request to the Board of Education of the City of Chicago (“Board”) seeking records related to racial discrimination claims he made between 1999 and 2005. There were approximately 28,000 pages of records responsive to Greer’s request that would need to be reviewed for potential exemptions. The Board asked Greer to narrow his request, but Greer refused. Therefore, the Board denied Greer’s request as unduly burdensome under Section 3(g) of the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, 5 ILCS 140/1 et seq. (the “Act”), which excuses a public body from fulfilling a categorical request for records if compliance with the request would place an undue burden on the public body after the requester is given the opportunity to narrow its request.
Greer filed a FOIA complaint against the Board for denying his request. The circuit court found in favor of the Board and granted the Board’s motion for summary judgement on the grounds that Greer’s FOIA request was unduly burdensome. Greer appealed.
On appeal, the appellate court reversed the circuit court’s ruling explaining that there were issues of material fact as to whether Greer’s FOIA request was unduly burdensome. In its analysis, the appellate court was unconvinced that the Board would face a great burden in reviewing 28,000 pages of records and questioned the Board’s claim that it would take 86 days to review 28,000 pages (i.e. 3 pages every 5 minutes). The appellate court found that the public has a substantial interest in the information contained in the requested documents (i.e. allegations of racial discrimination by public bodies and the Board’s response to the allegations, even when the allegations pertain to a single employee) and this interest outweighs the Board’s burden of reviewing 28,000 pages of records. Therefore, the appellate court reversed the circuit court’s decision and ordered the Board to examine the 28,000 pages to identify which records contained information exempt from disclosure.
Prior courts have found that FOIA requests producing much less than 28,000 pages of responsive records and requiring much fewer hours of review were unduly burdensome under Section 3(g) of the Act. Therefore, a takeaway from this case is that the quantity of records responsive to a request is not always the deciding factor in determining whether a request is unduly burdensome. Courts consider the public’s interest in the disclosure and weigh this interest against the public body’s burden of complying with the request.