SPRINGFIELD, IL. (ECWd) -
According to the Opinion issued on December 19, 2019, the Illinois Supreme Court determined that settlement agreements between Wexford and the estate of an inmate who died from cancer is subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
The Sup. Ct. held that records of contractors of a public body, which pertain to a governmental function are subject to FOIA - in this case, an insurance company's settlement agreement and other docs.
Wexford Health Sources, Inc. contracts with the Illinois Department of Corrections to provide medical care to inmates.
In August 2015, Bruce Rushton, a journalist for the Illinois Times, sent the following records request to the DOC:
“All settlement agreements pertaining to claims and/or lawsuits filed in connection with the death of Alfonso Franco, a former inmate at Taylorville Correctional Center who died from cancer in 2012. This request includes but is not limited to settlement agreements involving any private entities charged with providing health care to Mr. Franco, including but not limited to Wexford Health Sources.”
The DOC responded that it did not have a copy of the settlement agreement but was attempting to obtain it from Wexford. Wexford declined to turn over the settlement agreement to the DOC, claiming that it was “confidential in nature.” In further conversations with the DOC, Wexford argued that the settlement agreement was not a public record for purposes of FOIA.
In April 2017, Rushton and the Illinois Times filed a complaint against the DOC, seeking an unredacted copy of the settlement agreement. The Sangamon County Circuit Court allowed Wexford to intervene in the lawsuit. The court later
ordered Wexford to provide an unredacted version of the agreement to the court under seal.
Wexford intervened and argued that the settlement agreement did not "directly relate" to the governmental functions of IDOC.
The Circuit Court entered summary judgment in favor of Wexford. The circuit court agreed with Wexford that the settlement agreement is a business decision that is not directly related to its provision of medical services for the DOC. The plaintiffs had argued that the amount of the settlement agreement affected taxpayers because the amount of the settlement would impact any future contracts between Wexford and the DOC. (incidentally, ECWd has made this same argument in previous FOIA requests - we are happy to see our arguments are finally validated)
The Appellate Court reversed the Circuit Court's decision and explained that the court has previously held that the purpose of Section 7(2) in the FOIA is to ensure that governmental entities may not avoid disclosure obligations by delegating their responsibilities to private entities.
Wexford appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Court's reversal:
". . . we affirm the judgment of the appellate court, which held that the settlement agreement was subject to disclosure. In the language of section 7(2), the settlement agreement is in the possession of Wexford, with whom the DOC has contracted to provide medical care to inmates on its behalf, and the settlement agreement directly relates to the medical care that Wexford provided to an inmate. Thus, it is a public record of the DOC for purposes of FOIA. Because the trial court concluded that the agreement was not subject to disclosure, it did not consider Wexford’s alternative argument that certain information in the agreement was exempt under various provisions of FOIA and should be redacted. We thus remand the case to the trial court for consideration of that issue. "
Read the entire decision below: