FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION
Charles F. Stroebel and Nancy Crane Stroebel,
against Docket #FIC 94-92
Chief Attorney and Staff Attorney, Public Health Hearing Office,
State of Connecticut Department of Public Health and Addiction
Services, Bureau of Health System Regulation,
Respondents March 8, 1995
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on September 14 and 21, 1994, at which time the complainants and the respondents 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 and conclusions of law are reached:
1. The respondents are public agencies within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.
2. By letter of complaint filed March 25, 1994, the complainant John Stroebel appealed to the Commission, alleging that he had been denied access on March 15, 1994 to a certain file.
3. By separate letter of complaint filed March 25, 1994, the complainant Nancy Stroebel also appealed to the Commission, alleging that she too had been denied access on March 15, 1994 to certain files.
4. It is found that the complainant John Stoebel is the subject of a complaint before the Connecticut Medical Examining Board, which complaint is being prosecuted by the respondents.
5. It is found that the complainants on many occassions before March 15, 1994 requested and were given access to inspect the "public file" concerning John Stroebel.
6. It is found that the complainants requested access to inspect Dr. Stroebel's file on March 15, 1994.
Docket #FIC 94-92 Page 2
7. It is found that the respondent staff attorney, at the direction of the respondent chief attorney, denied the complainants access to inspect the public file, and instead offered to provide the complainants with copies of any and all new documents that came into the file.
8. It is found that, after the filing of the complaint in this matter, the respondents have provided the complainants access to inspect the Dr. Stroebel's public file before any hearing concerning Dr. Stroebel, and that this arrangement is satisfactory to the complainants.
9. The respondents maintain that they were not required to provide access to the requested records on March 15, 1994, because nothing new had come into the file, and the complainants had viewed the same file on many previous occassions.
10. The respondents also maintain that 1-19(a), G.S., only requires them to provide either access or copies, and that they are in compliance with the statute by themselves choosing to provide only copies, even where the request is for inspection.
11. The respondents also maintain that they could not provide weekly access between March 15 and April 4 because their staffing was down.
12. Section 1-19(a), G.S., provides in relevant part:
Except as otherwise provided by any federal law or state statute, all records maintained or kept on file by any public agency, whether or not such records are required by any law or by any rule or regulation, shall be public records and every person shall have the right to inspect such records promptly during regular office or business hours or to receive a copy of such records in accordance with the provisions of section 1-15.
13. It is concluded that, at a minimum, that if a person requests access to inspect public records, an agency may not limit that right by insisting on providing only copies of selected records from the file sought to be inspected.
14. It is also concluded that nothing in 1-19(a), G.S., limits the number of times that a person may inspect any given file.
15. It is also found that, at the actual time the respondents denied the complainants access to the file, they did so based upon their erroneous interpretation of 1-19(a), G.S., and not based upon an assessment of staffing limitations.
Docket #FIC 94-92 Page 3
16. It is also found that the respondents failed to prove that they had been subjected to any significant burden by being asked to provide access to the requested file.
17. It is therefore concluded that the respondents violated 1-19(a), G.S., by refusing to provide access to the requested file and by insisting on providing copies only of selected documents from that file.
18. It is found that the respondents are currently providing access at times satisfactory to the complainants.
19. It is therefore concluded that there is no need for the Commission to determine how often access should have been granted between March 15 and April 4, 1994.
20. The Commission in its discretion also declines to issue explicit orders as to exactly how often the complainants may in the future view the subject files and upon how much notice.
21. The complainant Nancy Stroebel also maintains that she was denied access to the working file of the attorney that was prosecuting the claim against the complainant Dr. Stroebel.
22. It is found, however, that the records sought by the complainant Nancy Stroebel from the attorney's working file comprise records of strategy or negotiation with respect to pending claims or litigation to which the respondents are a party, within the meaning of 1-19(b)(4), G.S.
The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint:
1. Henceforth the respondents shall strictly comply with the requirements of 1-19(a), G.S.
Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of March 8, 1995.
Debra L. Rembowski
Clerk of the Commission
Docket #FIC 94-92 Page 4
PURSUANT TO SECTION 4-180(c), G.S. THE FOLLOWING ARE THE NAMES OF EACH PARTY AND THE MOST RECENT MAILING ADDRESS, PROVIDED TO THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION, OF THE PARTIES OR THEIR AUTHORIZED REPRESENTATIVE.
THE PARTIES TO THIS CONTESTED CASE ARE:
CHARLES F. STROEBEL AND NANCY CRANE STROEBEL
c/o John L. Giulietti, Esq.
314 Kelly Road
Vernon, CT 06066
CHIEF ATTORNEY AND STAFF ATTORNEY, PUBLIC HEALTH HEARING OFFICER, STATE OF CONNECTICUT, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH AND ADDICTION SERVICES, BUREAU OF HEALTH SYSTEM REGULATION
c/o Stephen G. Vitelli, Esq.
Assistant Attorney General
55 Elm Street
Hartford, CT 06106-1774
Debra L. Rembowski
Clerk of the Commission