A suburban police department and a personal injury lawyer who specializes in suing on behalf of people involved in car crashes have locked horns in Cook County court over how much information the police are required by law to include on accident reports the lawyer will use to solicit potential clients and drum up business.
In recent days, attorneys for the Schaumburg Police Department and lawyer Anthony Mancini, of the Mancini Law Group P.C., have exchanged briefs in Cook County Circuit Court, each saying the other has misinterpreted Freedom of Information laws on the question of whether police are required to include such information as birth dates and insurance policy numbers on official crash reports provided in response to requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act.
Mancini filed suit a year ago, in October 2017, accusing the Schaumburg Police Department of wrongly redacting information from two weeks’ worth of police crash reports he had requested.
The complaint said the village responded to his request in early August with a batch of crash reports from that time period, but the reports included “substantial redactions,” meaning much of the reports had been blacked out. The lawsuit said the village cited “exemptions for personal and private information” to justify the redactions.
Mancini, through his lawyers with the firm of Loevy & Loevy, of Chicago, asserted those redactions violated Illinois’ FOIA law, which, he argued, “explicitly requires public bodies to disclose traffic accident reports.”
Mancini also asserted “other police departments in Illinois” gave him accident reports without blacking out names, addresses and other information for those involved in the crashes.
In later filings, the Schaumburg Police noted it “specifically redacted home addresses, driver’s license numbers, personal phone numbers, dates of birth, license plate numbers and policy numbers” from the crash reports requested by Mancini.
Mancini has asserted the police department’s censoring of the reports rendered the documents useless, and he refused to pay the fees demanded by the police department to obtain the documents.
This spring, a Cook County judge refused the police department’s attempt to dismiss the lawsuit, rejecting their argument the police department can’t be sued under the Illinois FOIA law. The judge said the law and its interpretation makes clear a police department can be considered a “public body” subject to FOIA.
In more recent weeks, the two sides have exchanged briefs as they each seek “partial summary judgment” in the matter.
On Sept. 20, Mancini reasserted his claims the police department violated the FOIA law.
“It is undisputed that (Schaumburg Police Department) is a public body and that Mancini made requests for records that were denied in whole or in part,” Mancini argued. “… SPD must prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that anything withheld is exempt from disclosure under the statute.”
In response, on Oct. 11, the Schaumburg Police asserted the law and legal precedent were on its side, saying information like dates of birth and insurance policy numbers should be considered “private information,” exempt from disclosure under FOIA.
“… This is the type of information that a reasonable person would find highly objectionable if this information was released,” the police asserted. “It is conceivable that the information could be used to make false reports or expose an individual to identity theft.”
The Schaumburg Police are represented in the action by attorneys Lance C. Malina and Mallory A. Milluzzi, of the firm of Klein Thorpe and Jenkins Ltd., of Chicago.
Last year, Mancini settled a lawsuit brought against him by a man who claimed Mancini had violated his rights under the federal Drivers Privacy Protection Act when Mancini used information from a Schaumburg traffic crash report to contact him and offer to represent the man and his family, should they wish to sue.
The same plaintiff also settled a similar legal action over similar claims against the firm of Meyerkord & Meyerkord, of St. Louis.