Appellate Court Affirms Award of Attorney Fees Against Frequent FOIA Litigator

September 25, 2018

In Garlick v. Bloomingdale Twp., 2018 IL App (2d) 171013, the Second District Appellate Court affirmed an award of attorney fees to Bloomingdale Township after protracted FOIA litigation with Warren Garlick.

In 2015, Garlick sought, via a FOIA request, an electronic copy of all publicly disclosable data within the Township’s property assessment software system, in its native file format. When the data was not timely produced, Garlick sued the Township. Thereafter, the township provided the requested data in SQL format and filed a motion to dismiss claiming that Garlick’s claim was now moot. The case was dismissed and affirmed on appeal.

On June 16, 2017, Garlick filed a new FOIA request seeking the same information (all publicly disclosable data within the Township’s property assessment software system). Three days later, June 19, Garlick submitted an “addendum” stating that he wanted the data in a specific file format, SQL. The Township complied with his request by providing the data in Garlick’s desired format.

On July 26, Garlick submitted a second “addendum” to his request advising the Township that the data he received was not the format in which it was maintained; he claimed different data types were included. Garlick promised to wait for a response from the Township instead of submitting the matter for judicial review. Despite receiving correspondence from the Township explaining that they were working on the request with its database proprietor, Garlick filed a second suit on August 7 claiming a FOIA violation.

The Township provided the requested data on August 9 and asked Garlick to voluntarily dismiss his complaint as the lawsuit was not in good faith, was unwarranted, and was filed to harass and incur expense to the Township. While acknowledging that the Township had proposed the data in the correct data types, Garlick refused to dismiss his complaint.

The trial court granted both the Township’s motion to dismiss the action and request for sanctions, awarding the Township approximately $31,500 in attorney fees and costs to defend the 2017 litigation, which the trial court found to be identical to the 2015 litigation. The appellate court affirmed this award of sanctions, noting that the Township timely responded to Garlick’s requests (which was not an “addendum” but a new request) and that Garlick had acknowledged that he received the requested data in the format he specified.

Although this case does not affect a public body’s duty to respond to FOIA requests, it does demonstrate that public bodies may obtain relief when they find themselves constantly defending against unwarranted lawsuits based on FOIA requests. If a FOIA requester’s conduct rises to an egregious level, public bodies may be able to recover attorney’s fees and costs.

Garlick v. Bloomingdale Township

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