IIT Chicago-Kent Center for Open Government files an FOIA lawsuit against the Village of Thornton

Village trustee Paul Tomasik seeks information on emergency medical service expenditures

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law's Center for Open Government has filed a lawsuit against the Village of Thornton on behalf of village trustee Paul Tomasik. The lawsuit alleges that the village violated the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) earlier this year when it failed to disclose specific information related to emergency medical service billings in the village duly requested by Tomasik in accordance with state FOIA requirements.

Tomasik is seeking the data to determine whether there is a disparity between the way Thornton residents and non-residents are treated with regard to paying bills to an ambulance service owned and operated by the village. The Center for Open Government filed suit this week in Cook County Circuit Court on Tomasik's behalf after the village failed to comply with his request. The lawsuit seeks release of the entirety of information that Tomasik requested.

"There is no legal reason or excuse for Thornton officials to withhold these records from Mr. Tomasik, a village trustee, who has a right to prompt access to information he requests in order to conduct the people's business," said Terrance A. Norton, director of the Center for Open Government and the attorney who filed the lawsuit.

On February 2, 2010, Tomasik completed a FOIA request to obtain invoice data for Emergency Medical and Extraction Services billed under the village code between January 1, 2008, and December 31, 2009; receipts for funds collected on those invoices; and accounts receivable data on all invoices open as of December 31, 2009. He also requested information on the zip codes and municipalities of those invoiced.

The village FOIA officer responded a week later and extended the time to comply with Tomasik's request due to the location and number of records needed. After receiving incomplete information on February 17, Tomasik contacted the village to find out why. Despite the existence of the requested information, he was told that the private billing company that invoiced for Thornton's ambulance services could not break down the information by zip code and location.

"The Center exists for people, like Mr. Tomasik, who need help enforcing laws designed to make government transparent," said attorney Clint Krislov, founder of the Center for Open Government.

Chicago-Kent College of Law is the law school of Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), a private, Ph.D.-granting institution. Chicago-Kent established the Center for Open Government in 2009 to help ensure transparency, accountability and responsibility in local and state government. The Center identifies instances where legal recourse is needed to provide access to government information and proceedings. The Center focuses on cases challenging closed government processes under the Illinois Open Meetings Act, the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, and similar statutes.