FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION

OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION

 

Patrice Courtney and Citizen Publications,

 

Complainants

 

against Docket #FIC 86-128

 

Office of the Chief Medical xaminer of the State of Connecticut,

 

Respondent July 1, 1986

 

The above captioned matter was heard as a contested case on May 29, 1986, at which time the complainants and the respondent appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint.

 

After consideration of the entire record the following facts are found:

 

1. The respondent is a public agency within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.

 

2. By letter dated April 8, 1986 the complainant Courtney made a request of the respondent for a copy of the autopsy report on one Sindy White, deceased.

 

3. By letter dated April 24, 1986 the respondent denied the request stating that pursuant to 19-525-10(c) of the Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies records of this type may only be provided to the next of kin or persons acting in their behalf. The respondent further stated that the Commission on Medicolegal Investigations is currently involved in litigation involving access to the types of records that have been requested and that until this issue has been resolved, records of the type requested are non-disclosable.

 

4. From denial of access to the requested autopsy report, the complainant appealed to the Commission by complaint filed on May 6, 1986.

 

Docket #FIC 86-128 Page 2

 

5. It is found that the requested autopsy report, which shall be construed to include related toxicology and other laboratory reports, constitutes a public record under 1-18a(d) and 1-19(a), G.S., and must be disclosed under 1-15 and 1-19(a), G.S., unless otherwise exempt.

 

6. The respondent claims that the requested report is exempt from disclosure pursuant to 19-525-10 of the Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies.

 

7. It is found that 19-525-10 of the Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies provides for disclosure of autopsy reports to persons with certain specific interests therein.

 

8. It is also found, however, that a regulation of a state agency does not supersede the disclosure provisions of 1-19(a), G.S.

 

9. It is therefore concluded that 19-525-10 does not exempt the subject report from disclosure unless such report is found to be exempt under a provision of 1-19, G.S.

 

10. The respondent also claims that the report is exempt from disclosure pursuant to 1-19(b)(2), G.S., as a medical or similar file, the disclosure of which would constitute an invasion of the personal privacy of the decedent and her family.

 

11. It is found that the autopsy report contains a description of the external appearance of the deceased, including a description of organs, old and new injuries, a toxicology report and an internal examination.

 

12. It is found that the autopsy report constitutes a medical file within the meaning of 1-19(b)(2), G.S.

 

13. It is also found, however, that disclosure of the subject autopsy report would not constitute an invasion of personal privacy of either the deceased or her family.

 

14. It is therefore concluded that the requested report is not exempt from disclosure pursuant to 1-19(b)(2), G.S.

 

15. The respondent has stated the requested report would have been released to the complainant Courtney, provided the complainant had received a written authorization of release from the decedent's family.

 

Docket #FIC 86-128 Page 3

 

16. It is found that permission for disclosure from the decedent's family is not a statutory precondition for such disclosure, but is merely a practice adopted by the respondent.

 

17. In the absence of statutory authority, it is concluded that under 1-19, G.S., the respondent cannot create a precondition to disclosure of a public record.

 

18. At the hearing before the Commission, the respondent requested an in camera inspection of the autopsy report by the presiding officer.

 

19. Pursuant to 1-21j-35(a) of the Freedom of Information Commission's Regulations, in camera inspections by the presiding officer are prohibited. The respondent's request was therefore denied.

 

20. It is found that the respondent failed to show by documentary evidence or argument why an in camera inspection would change the legal conclusions which are contained herein.

 

The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above captioned complaint:

 

1. The respondent shall provide the complainant Courtney with a copy of the autopsy report more fully described in paragraphs 2 and 5 of the findings, above.

 

Approved by order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of June 25, 1986.

 

Karen J. Haggett

Clerk of the Commission