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Illinois Supreme Court: FOID records exempt from public disclosure

Justice Joy V. Cunningham wrote the unanimous opinion that found the Illinois State Police can deny records requests for details about Firearm Owner’s Identification Cards, even if the requester is seeking their own records.

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled Thursday that people may obtain records about their own Firearm Owners Identification cards, but they may not use the state’s Freedom of Information Act to do so.

In a 7-0 ruling, the court said the Illinois State Police acted properly when it denied FOIA requests from individuals who sought copies of letters explaining why their FOID cards had been denied or revoked. But the court also said those individuals could have obtained those records through other means.

“ISP does not dispute this point but simply maintains, as we have found, that FOIA is not the proper means for obtaining the requested information,” Justice Joy Cunningham wrote for the court.

The case revolved around a 2011 amendment to the Freedom of Information Act that exempts from public disclosure the names and information of people who have applied for or received FOID cards or concealed carry permits.

According to briefs filed with the court, state lawmakers passed that amendment after the Associated Press filed a blanket FOIA request seeking the names of all FOID cardholders in the state, along with the expiration dates of their cards.

Thursday’s ruling involved two unrelated cases from Madison County in which Sandra Hart and Kenneth Burgess Sr. sought copies of documents related to their FOID cards, including records explaining why their cards had been revoked.

Thomas Maag, an attorney who argued the cases at the Supreme Court, said in an interview Thursday that both individuals claimed they had lost the original documents and that they sought copies so they could appeal the revocations.

In both cases, ISP denied the requests, citing the exemption in the Freedom of Information Act. But in both cases, the Madison County Circuit Court sided with the applicants and ordered ISP to hand over the requested information. In 2022, the 5th District Court of Appeals upheld those decisions, saying the FOIA exemption was never intended to prevent individuals from obtaining records pertaining to themselves.

Both the trial court and the appellate court pointed to the use of plural language in the 2011 amendment that prohibits the release of “names” and information of “people” who have applied for or received permits. They argued the use of plural words indicated lawmakers did not intend to prevent people from accessing their own information.

But the Supreme Court rejected that analysis, saying the use of the plural words “does not, in itself, mean that a request for one’s own information” would be permissible under the 2011 amendment.

The court’s ruling noted that the individuals could have obtained their FOID card applications and revocation letters through the Firearms Services Bureau, which is the division of ISP that processes FOID cards.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

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Capitol News Illinois

Capitol News Illinois

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit news service operated by the Illinois Press Foundation that provides coverage of state government to newspapers throughout Illinois. It is funded by donations from the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. The mission of Capitol News Illinois is to provide credible and unbiased coverage of state government. Capitol News Illinois provides year-round, daily coverage of the Legislature, including committee hearings; state agencies and issues; state office holders; and the Illinois Supreme Court and legal matters.

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