By: Brittany Flaherty Theis

Public Act 98-1129 (previously House Bill 3796) provides relief to public bodies from FOIA requests that are deemed “voluminous” using standards set forth in the Act. The bill initially passed both houses of the Illinois General Assembly before being vetoed by the Governor on July 27, 2014. Earlier this month, however, both the House and Senate voted to override the Governor’s veto. Effective December 3, 2014, the Freedom of Information Act provides specific guidance for handling “voluminous requests” and addresses requests for records already available on a public body’s website.

“Voluminous Requests”
Public Act 98-1129 defines “voluminous request” as a request that:
1. Includes more than 5 individual requests for more than 5 different categories of records or a combination of individual requests that total requests for more than 5 different categories of records in a period of 20 business days; or
2. Requires the compilation of more than 500 letter or legal-sized pages of public records unless a single requested record exceeds 500 pages.
A voluminous request, however, does not include a request made by news media and non-profit, scientific, or academic organizations if the principal purpose of the request is to access or disseminate information concerning news and current or passing events; for articles of opinion or features of interest to the public; or for the purpose of academic, scientific, or public research or education.

A public body must still respond to a voluminous request within 5 business days after receipt. The Act provides specific notices that must be given to the requester within that initial response, such as options for modifying the request within 10 days or the assessment of fees for the request. After 10 business days without a response (or if the request continues to be a voluminous request after the requester’s response), the public body shall provide an estimate of the fees to be charged, deny the request pursuant to one or more of the exemptions found in the FOIA, notify the requester that the request is unduly burdensome and extend an opportunity to reduce the request, or provide the records requested.

The FOIA includes fees that public bodies may charge for voluminous requests for records that are electronic. The amount of the fees is based on the size of the records and whether they are in portable document format (PDF) or not. If the public body chooses to charge fees, it must provide the requester with an accounting of all fees, costs, and personnel hours in connection with the request. Additionally, a person whose request is treated as voluminous may file a request for review with the Public Access Counselor for the purpose of determining whether the request was properly treated as a voluminous request.

Records Maintained Online
Public Act 98-1129 also changed the way public bodies may respond to FOIA requests for records that are already online. A public body is not required to copy a public record that is published on the public body’s website. Instead, the public body shall notify the requester that the record is available online and direct the requester to where the record can be found. If the requester is then unable to “reasonably access” the record online, the request may be re-submitted to the public body stating that he or she was unable to access the record online and the public body shall respond.

Whitt Law has numerous attorneys experienced in advising clients on how to handle FOIA requests. If you have questions regarding a “voluminous request,” online records, or would like assistance responding to a FOIA request, please contact Whitt Law Attorney Brittany Flaherty Theis.