Staake v. The Dep't of Corr., 4-21-0071

CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois
Writing for the CourtSTEIGMANN JUSTICE
Citation2022 IL App (4th) 210071
PartiesJARED M. STAAKE, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. THE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Defendant-Appellee.
Docket Number4-21-0071
Decision Date06 June 2022

2022 IL App (4th) 210071

JARED M. STAAKE, Plaintiff-Appellant,


No. 4-21-0071

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

June 6, 2022

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Sangamon County No. 18-MR-710 Honorable Rudolph M. Braud Jr., Judge Presiding.

Attorneys for Appellant:

Jared M. Staake, of Beardstown, appellant pro se.

Attorneys for Appellee:

Kwame Raoul, Attorney General, of Chicago (Jane Elinor Notz, Solicitor General, and Benjamin F. Jacobson, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel), for appellee.

JUSTICE STEIGMANN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices DeArmond and Holder White concurred in the judgment and opinion.



¶ 1 In February 2018, plaintiff Jared M. Staake, an inmate in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC), pro se filed a complaint for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief against defendant, DOC, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (5 ILCS 140/1 et seq. (West 2018)). The complaint also sought civil penalties, attorney fees, and costs. While Staake's complaint was pending, DOC provided him with copies of the records he sought.

¶ 2 In November 2019, Staake filed a motion for partial summary judgment, and in February 2020, DOC filed a motion for summary judgment. In November 2020, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of DOC on all issues.

¶ 3 Staake appeals, arguing that (1) the DOC's midlitigation disclosure of the documents did not render his claim for declaratory relief moot and (2) the trial court erred by


granting summary judgment regarding his claims for costs and civil penalties. We affirm the trial court's entry of summary judgment based on mootness but reverse and remand regarding Staake's claims for costs and civil penalties.


¶ 5 A. Staake's FOIA Requests

¶ 6 1. The Lippert Complaint

¶ 7 In February 2018, Staake filed a FOIA request with DOC for a copy of "[t]he controlling complaint on file in a class action lawsuit against [DOC] personel [sic], i.e., Lippert v. Godinez, #1:10-cv-04603" (Lippert complaint). In March 2018, DOC denied his request, citing section 7(1)(a) of the FOIA, which reads as follows:

"(1) When a request is made to inspect or copy a public record that contains information that is exempt from disclosure under this Section, but also contains information that is not exempt from disclosure, the public body may elect to redact the information that is exempt. The public body shall make the remaining information available for inspection and copying. Subject to this requirement, the following shall be exempt from inspection and copying
(a) Information specifically prohibited from disclosure by federal or State law or rules and regulations implementing federal or State law." Id. § 7(1)(a)

¶ 8 DOC explained in its written response to Staake's request that, because its regulations prohibited an inmate from "[p]osessing [sic] or soliciting unauthorized personal information regarding another [inmate], *** including, but not limited to, personnel files [and] *** medical or mental health records" (see 20 Ill. Adm. Code 504.Appendix A (2017) (offence No.


211, possession or solicitation of unauthorized personal information)), the Lippert complaint, which contained such information, was exempt from disclosure under section 7(1)(a) of the FOIA (5 ILCS 140/7(1)(a) (West 2018)). Later that month, Staake requested that DOC reconsider its decision because in his initial request he asked DOC to "redact sensitive or exempt information [and] *** release any segregable portion."

¶ 9 In April 2018, DOC denied Staake's request for reconsideration because he did not "submit[ ] a request for records" but instead submitted "a general request for data, information, [or] statistics." In response, Staake requested review by the Public Access Counselor (PAC) pursuant to section 9.5 of the FOIA. See id. § 9.5 (providing for review of denied FOIA requests by the Office of the Attorney General). Defendant attached to his response copies of his original FOIA request and DOC's denial of the original request. The PAC "determined that no further inquiry [was] warranted," exercised its discretion to resolve Staake's request for review "by means other than the issuance of a binding opinion," and closed the file.

¶ 10 2. The Educational Documents

¶ 11 In August 2018, Staake filed a second FOIA request with DOC for three "educational documents." Specifically, he requested "educational contracts] for Earned Program Sentence Credits" (EPSCs), which he contended were located either in (1) the "educational building in [Staake's] educational files of Lincoln [Correctional Center]" or (2) his master file in the records office. According to Staake, each document created an agreement under which DOC would award Staake EPSCs, which reduced his term of incarceration, "in exchange for [Staake's] participation and completion of High School Equivalency program[m]ing." Staake alleged that although an inmate normally did not have access to his master file, the documents contained decisions that affected the duration of his sentence, which entitled him to the educational


documents under section 3-5-1(b) of the Unified Code of Corrections (730 ILCS 5/3-5-1(b) (West 2018)). Section 3-5-1(b) provides, "If [DOC] makes a determination under this Code which affects the length of the period of confinement or commitment, the committed person and his counsel shall be advised of factual information relied upon by [DOC] to make the determination ***." Id.

¶ 12 In September 2018, DOC denied Staake's request, citing section 7(1)(a) of the FOIA. DOC explained that, under section 3-5-1(b) of the Unified Code of Corrections (id.), "the master record files of committed persons shall be confidential and access shall be limited to authorized persons." DOC further explained that" 'other information that [DOC] determines is relevant to the secure confinement and rehabilitation of the committed person' is exempt from release pursuant to 730 ILCS 5/3-5-1(a)(13) [(West 2018)]." According to DOC's brief on appeal, DOC thus "concluded, because the educational [documents] were in Staake's master file, they were exempt from release *** under section 7(1)(a) of [the FOIA]." Staake did not seek reconsideration of his request for the educational documents.

¶ 13 B. The Complaint

¶ 14 In September 2018, Staake pro se filed a complaint against DOC for declaratory and injunctive relief pursuant to section 11 of the FOIA (5 ILCS 140/11 (West 2018)). Staake alleged that by denying his FOIA requests for the Lippert complaint and the educational documents, DOC had willfully and intentionally, or otherwise in bad faith, violated the FOIA. Staake sought five forms of relief: (1) a declaration that DOC's denials were willful and intentional violations of the FOIA or otherwise made in bad faith, (2) "a declaration that [DOC's] acts and omissions violated the [Unified] Code of Corrections," (3) an injunction prohibiting DOC from withholding the requested documents and for DOC to produce those documents, (4) a civil penalty for each violation of the FOIA, and (5) "[a]n award of the full cost arising out of this litigation."


¶ 15 In support of his complaint, Staake attached (1) copies of his FOIA requests, (2) DOC's responses to those requests, (3) his appeal to the PAC, (4) the PAC's response, and (5) copies of other inmates' requests for educational documents, which DOC had also denied.

¶ 16 C. The Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment

¶ 17 In December 2018, DOC mailed Staake a redacted copy of the Lippert complaint, and in May 2019, DOC mailed Staake copies of the educational documents. These documents were what Staake had previously requested, but DOC withheld from him despite his FOIA requests.

¶ 18 In November 2019, Staake filed a motion for partial summary judgment regarding his claim for declaratory relief. He argued that although his claim for injunctive relief became moot once he was provided with the Lippert complaint and the educational documents, his claims for declaratory relief were still an actual controversy. Staake further argued that in order for the trial court to impose costs and civil penalties on DOC, the court needed to either grant injunctive relief or declaratory relief under sections 11(i) and 11(j) of the FOIA.

¶ 19 Regarding DOC's failure to disclose the Lippert complaint, Staake argued that (1) DOC should have released to him a redacted copy of the complaint consistent with the FOIA and (2) by withholding the documents, DOC violated the FOIA. Regarding the educational documents, Staake argued that "DOC's internal policies, mandate[d] the release of [the materials] 'as authorized by the student.'" Therefore, Staake argued, DOC's reliance on the exemption in section 7(1)(a) was erroneous and DOC violated the FOIA by denying both of Staake's requests for the documents.

¶ 20 In February 2020, DOC filed its own motion for summary judgment on all of Staake's claims, arguing that (1) because DOC disclosed the documents that Staake requested, his claims for declaratory relief were moot; (2) because Staake was a pro se litigant proceeding


in forma pauperis, he incurred no attorney fees or costs; and (3) Staake failed to demonstrate that DOC willfully and intentionally, or in bad faith, denied his FOIA requests.

¶ 21 In Staake's reply to DOC's motion for summary judgment, Staake argued that his claims for declaratory judgment were not moot because such a judgment was necessary to establish his...

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