Lieber v. Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University

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Liebervs.Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University
Number: 81220
Year: 1996
State: Illinois
Court: Illinois Supreme Court
Other lawsuits in Illinois
Other lawsuits in 1996
Precedents include:
1.)Eliminated automatic exemption of personal information and instead established a criteria using the degree of invasion of privacy and the benefit to the public to determine whether personal records were exempt.
2.) Eliminated the opportunity for rejections based on the intended use of the open records.
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Lieber v. Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University, 279 Ill. App. 3d 553, 664 N.E.2d 1155 was a 1996 case in the Illinois 5th District Appellate Court. While the circuit court ruled in favor of the Southern Illinois University(SIU), the appellate court reversed the decision, and the new decision was upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court in 1997.

Important Precedents

This case set two important precendents:

  • The case established that materials that were expected to be exempt based on privacy issues were not de facto exempt but needed to be evaluated based on the four criteria established by the court.
  • The case also established that intention or purpose of an FOIA request within Illinois can have no effect upon the decision to affirm or deny that request.


All Information is take from the Ruling from the Supreme Court of Illinois[1]

  • SIU requires that unmarried freshman, under 21, reside in either campus dorms or privately owned off-campus approved housing.
  • Lieber owns one of these off-campus approved apartments.
  • In the past, the University has supplied these apartment owners, including Lieber, as well as other organizations with contact information for incoming freshman to allow them to contact the students themselves about housing opportunities.
  • Due to a decline in enrollment and a decrease in the number of students opting for University owned housing, SIU issued a statement claiming that brochures about possible off-campus housing options would no longer be mailed to incoming students and that the owners of approved off-campus apartments would be responsilbe for their own advertising.
  • In addition to refusing to supply advertisement materials, the University attempted to refrain from dispensing contact information for students.
  • In 1992 Lieber filed a former FOIA request for the information and was granted it.
  • In 1993 the University officially changed its policy and refused to grant requests for contact information for incoming students, but instead, offered to mail out materials provided by the owners of approved housing to the incoming students.
  • Lieber received one more list of incoming freshman before the policy was put into place.
  • Lieber also submitted materials to the university to be mailed, many of which were returned to Lieber.
  • In April 1993 Lieber submitted a formal FOIA request which was rejected by the University because:
  • "The Freedom of Information Act does not require release of information to be used for furthering a commercial enterprise and"
  • "that address list information for accepted freshmen is exempt from disclosure because the release of student information is restricted by federal law."[1]
  • Lieber challenged the University's decision in the circuit court of Jackson County. The University argued against the suit claiming that:
  • The information constitutes personal information and thus cannot be released and
  • Lieber wants the information for economic gain and thus has no right to demand it[1].
  • The Circuit court ruled in favor of SIU based on their second contention.

Ruling of the Appellate Court of Illinois Fifth District

The Appellate court ruled in favor of Lieber, overturning the circuit courts ruling.

With respect to SIU's first defense, the court ruled that the University insufficiently demonstrated that the materials were exempt from FOIA requests. SIU claimed that the information was exempt from FOIA requests because its release constituted a direct invasion of personal privacy[1]. The Appellate court ruled that, for each decision regarding privacy and FOIA, the court must come to a separate determination regarding the degree of invasion, "taking into account:

  1. the plaintiff's interest in disclosure,
  2. the public interest in disclosure,
  3. the degree of invasion of personal privacy, and
  4. the availability of alternative means of obtaining the requested information."[1]

Based on this criteria, the Appellate court sided with Lieber and ruled that the information did not constitute a direct invasion of privacy on the part of the admitted individuals. The Supreme court took this a step further and concluded that the individuals in question did not fit within the pertaining statute at all because they were not yet students and thus their personal information was not yet protected under FOIA law.[1]
With respect to SIU's second defense, the court ruled that Lieber's purpose in requesting the information did not automatically defeat his claim and that the trial court erred in requiring Lieber to explain his purpose in requesting the information and in denying his request on the basis that the information would further his commercial enterprise.

The Supreme court later upheld this decision (1997).

Associated cases

See also

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Ruling of the Supreme Court