In a unanimous ruling issued on May 18, 2017, the Illinois Supreme Court held that the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) is not subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws, affirming the decisions of two lower courts. (Better Government Ass’n. v. Illinois High School Ass’n et al, 2017 IL 121124 (May 18, 2017)
“We are pleased with the decision, but certainly not surprised,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson. “We believe that the Circuit Court and Appellate Court each had a firm grasp on the law as it pertains to this situation, and ruled correctly. We anticipated that the state’s Supreme Court would affirm those decisions.”
FOIA gives public access to records of government entities, including their “subsidiary bodies”, and to records of government bodies which are in the hands of private entities. In 2014, the Better Government Association (BGA) requested documents from the IHSA under FOIA. IHSA responded that it was a private, not-for-profit entity which was not subject to FOIA. BGA then requested the same documents from Consolidated High School District 230, which responded that the records requested did not pertain to the transaction of the District’s public business. The BGA then filed suit in the Circuit Court of Cook County to compel the disclosure of the requested records.
The Circuit Court agreed with the IHSA and District 230, and dismissed the BGA’s complaint. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed that ruling, and the matter was appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court noted that IHSA is not a body of State or local government as defined by FOIA. The court then turned to the issue of whether it was a “subsidiary body” of a government entity. In affirming the lower courts, the court upheld the use of the four-part test used to determine whether an entity is a subsidiary body of a government entity, noting that the IHSA has a separate legal identity from its members, that it is not controlled by an agency of government, and that it does not receive public funding. The court further noted that even if the IHSA’s functions of overseeing certain high school competitions and organizing tournaments were considered “governmental functions” that factor alone would not make the IHSA a subsidiary of a government body. The court also held that the records requested were not the records of District 230 in the possession of the IHSA since the IHSA was not acting on behalf of District 230 in performing its functions, and District 230 had not delegated any functions to the IHSA.
“The IHSA has and will continue to be transparent beyond the requirements of the law,” said Anderson. “We will continue to make our Financial Statements, Independent Audit and Annual Report available publicly on our website to be open and transparent with our membership. We will also continue to follow all laws that are in place to govern 501(c)(3) organizations like the IHSA, just as we have always done.”