People ex rel. Ulrich v. Stukel was a case before Illinois First District Appellate Court, fifth division in 1997 concerning attorney fees for FOIA requests.
This case established that even if a public records request was met outside of court, an individual could still be entitled to attorney fees if he filed suit in a timely manner.
This case also established that fees paid to attorneys were not exempt as documents relating to attorney-client privilege.
- This case originated from another case in which Ulrich was attempting to prosecute two former professors of the University of Illinois for illegal transferring equipment to their new university. In the process of prosecuting the case, Ulrich submitted a records request seeking to determine if the University was paying for the defense of the two professors.
- The University denied his request, claiming that the financial documents in question were exempt from public records request based on the exemption within the Illinois Freedom of Information Act which exempted records that fell under attorney-client privilege. The University president rejected the request on similar grounds.
- On September 23, 1996, Ulrich filed suit in circuit court, attempting to compel the university to release the documents.
- The court was scheduled to review the documents in camera on January 6, 1997. However, on December 23, 1996, the University opted to waves its exemption and gave the documents to Ulrich. Ulrich maintained the lawsuit, seeking attorney fees while the University attempted to have the case dismissed as moot.
- On January 6, 1997, the circuit court dismissed the case.
- Ulrich appealed the decision.
Ruling of the court
The circuit court dismissed the case as moot, claiming that Ulrich had failed to demonstrate the liklihood of recurrence needed under the public interest exception to eliminate the cases status of moot.
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the circuit court that the issue was moot, but overturned and remanded the decision on attorney fees.
The Supreme Court concurred with the circuit court by deciding that the question of whether or not the records were exempt was moot and did not fall under the public interest exemption for mootness because there was a low likelihood of recurrence. The court also felt that any future similar conflicts should be addressed in separate cases and ruled on independently. However, the court did feel that Ulrich had some claim to attorney fees. It felt that disallowing attorney fees because the agency released the documents after a suit was filed circumvented the purpose of the attorney fees and allowed agencies to reject all requests until a costly lawsuit was filed. The court further determined that the University did not have solid legal groudning to consider the documents exempt. With these facts in mind, the court remanded the decision on attorney fees to the circuit court to determine the appropriate fees.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Ruling of the Court