Gang-Targeted Cop Can't Sue Over FOIA Release
CHICAGO (CN) - A city official who revealed the insurance information of a detective once targeted for a gang hit should not face a lawsuit, a federal judge ruled.
Domenic Capelluti has been a detective with the Major Crimes Task Force in Lake County, Illinois, for 17 years.
After he arrested gang member Abdul Love for intent to sell cocaine in 2005, Love hired a hit man to kill Capelluti for $45,000.
Although the assassination attempt was discovered, and Love was convicted for solicitation of murder for hire, Capelluti sold his house and his cars, rented a P.O. box, and changed his routine to protect himself and his family from any future plots.
Amy Strege, assistant corporation counsel for the city of Waukegan, nevertheless made Capelluti's information available while complying with a request she received under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from Chicago Tribune reporter Dan Hinkle in 2011.
Strege had responded with the "names and addresses of plaintiff's medical providers, his health insurance identification number, and employee identification number."
Capelluti then sued Strege and Waukegan, claiming the suburb endangered his family's safety, and that the information should have been exempt from disclosure under FOIA.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel dismissed Capelluti's case Thursday, finding that Strege is entitled to qualified immunity, because "government officials who perform discretionary functions are protected against civil liability unless 'their conduct ... violate[s] clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'"
Waukegan additionally cannot be held liable for the FOIA release, according to the ruling.
"Neither the Seventh Circuit, nor the Supreme Court has held that the release of the type of information at issue is constitutionally protected under a right to privacy," Zagel wrote. "Plaintiff has not pointed to a case holding to the contrary. What plaintiff does appear to argue is that a perceived violation of FOIA's privacy safeguards is tantamount to a constitutional violation of his privacy rights. This is incorrect. There is nothing in FOIA or in the cases interpreting it to suggest that a violation of privacy within the meaning of FOIA amounts to a constitutional violation. Plaintiff mistakenly conflates these two concepts."
Ultimately the actions of Strege and the city did not amount to conduct that "shocks the conscience," the eight-page opinion states.
"Although plaintiff later asserts that defendants 'acted recklessly,' the assertion is merely conclusory, and it is not supported with facts," Zagel wrote. "Defendants did redact considerable portions of plaintiff's records. Further, even if one were to conclude this redaction was insufficient, I cannot agree that plaintiff has sufficiently alleged culpability that rises above negligence."