FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
|In the Matter of a Complaint by||FINAL DECISION|
|James F. McLaughlin,|
|against||Docket #FIC 1997-280|
|State of Connecticut,
of Children & Families,
|Respondents||July 8, 1998|
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on November 21, 1997, and January 9, 1998, at which times the complainant and the respondent appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint. The case caption has been corrected to reflect the appropriate name of the respondent.
After consideration of the entire record, the following facts are found and conclusions of law are reached:
1. The respondent is a public agency within the meaning of §1-18a(1), G.S. (prior to October 1, 1997, §1-18a(a), G.S.).
2. By letter dated June 26, 1997, the complainant informed the respondent that Attorney Mary Chromik represented him and his wife in a matter related to his minor children. Such letter informed the respondent that all communications should be directed to such attorney.
3. By letter dated July 26, 1997, the complainant requested that the respondent provide him with access to all records relating to a complaint filed with the respondent regarding the complainants children and subsequent investigation into such complaint. Such letter informed the respondent that the complainant was an attorney representing himself, his wife, and his two minor children.
4. It is found that, under cover letter dated August 4, 1994 (sic), the respondent provided Attorney Chromik with a copy of the investigation conducted in response to the complaint described in paragraph 3, above. It is further found that such letter states that the records were provided pursuant to a request made by Attorney Chromik. It is further found that the records provided to such attorney included the identity of the person characterized as a disinterested party, as more fully described in paragraph 19, below.
5. It is found that the complainant is in receipt of records related to a Department of Children & Families investigation involving his minor children, which he received from Attorney Chromik.
6. By letter dated September 2, 1997, and filed with the Commission on September 4, 1997, the complainant alleged that the respondent violated the Freedom of Information (hereinafter FOI) Act by denying him access to the records requested in his letter described in paragraph 3, above.
7. By letter dated December 19, 1997, the complainant requested that the Commission conduct an in-camera review of the requested records. Additionally, the complainant requested that the Commission impose sanctions upon the respondent.
8. It is found that the requested records are public records within the meaning of §§1-18a(5), G.S. (prior to October 1, 1997, §1-18a(d), G.S.) and 1-19(a), G.S.
9. It is found that, after the November 21, 1997, hearing and prior to the January 9, 1998, hearing on this matter, the respondent provided the complainant with a copy of the requested records, as described in paragraph 3, above, excepting certain portions thereof, which the respondent contends are exempt from disclosure pursuant to statute. It is also found that the records provided to the complainant at such time included several pages which had not been previously provided to Attorney Chromik.
10. The respondent moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that it had provided the requested records to the complainant through his attorney in the August letter, as described in paragraph 4, above, and that therefore the allegation described in paragraph 6, above, was false. The complainant contended that the respondents provision of records to Attorney Chromik did not satisfy his July 26, 1997 request since such request was made, in part, on behalf of the complainants two minor children, whom such attorney did not represent.
11. It is found that the complainants July 26, 1997 request letter did not inform the respondent that Attorney Chromik no longer represented the complainant and his spouse. Consequently, it was not inappropriate to provide information to the complainants attorney. However, since the August provision of records to Attorney Chromik was apparently in response to a separate and earlier request by such attorney and since certain records were not provided at that time, the respondents motion to dismiss as described in paragraph 10, above, is denied.
12. The respondent next moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, contending that the provisions of §§17a-28(m)(1), G.S. and 17a-28(i), G.S., deprive the Commission of jurisdiction in this matter.
13. Section 17a-28(m)(1), G.S., provides in relevant part that:
[a]ny person , attorney or authorized representative aggrieved by a violation of subsection (b),(e), (f), (g), (h), (i) or (k) of this section may seek judicial relief .
14. The respondents motion to dismiss described in paragraph 12, above, is denied, since §§17a-28(m)(1), G.S. and 17a-28(i), G.S., provide the complainant with a separate avenue of appeal but do not deprive the Commission of jurisdiction in this matter.
15. Section 1-19(a), G.S., provides in relevant part:
[e]xcept as otherwise provided by any federal law or state statute, all records maintained by any public agency shall be public records and every person shall have the right to inspect such records promptly during regular office hours or to receive a copy of such records .
16. The respondent contends that §§17a-28(l) and 17a-28(i), G.S., provide bases to withhold the redacted portions of requested records from mandatory disclosure.
17. Section 17a-28(l), G.S., in relevant part provides:
information identifying an individual who reported abuse or neglect of a person shall not be released if the individual requested that his identity be kept confidential .
18. Section 17a-28(i), G.S., provides in relevant part:
the name of any individual who cooperates with an investigation of a report of child abuse or neglect shall be kept confidential upon request or upon a determination by the department that disclosure of such information may be detrimental to the safety or interests of the individual .
19. On January 22, 1998, the respondent provided the subject records to the Commission for an in-camera inspection. Upon such inspection, it is found that the respondent has redacted only those portions of the records which identify two individuals, one who is characterized as a mandated reporter and one who is characterized as a disinterested party.
20. Based upon a review of the records submitted for in-camera inspection, it is found that the identity of the individual characterized as a mandated reporter is not subject to mandatory disclosure by virtue of the provisions of §17a-28(l), G.S., and it is therefore concluded that the respondent did not violate the provisions of §1-19(a), G.S., by redacting such information from the records provided to the complainant.
21. It is found that §17a-28, G.S., does not define the term disinterested party. It is further found that §17a-28(i), G.S., provides a basis to withhold the identity of an individual who cooperates with an investigation of a child abuse report, provided the respondent determines that disclosure of such identity would be detrimental to the safety or interests of such individual. It is further found that the respondent made such determination with respect to the individual characterized by the respondent as a disinterested party, as described in paragraph 19, above.
22. Based upon a review of the records submitted for in-camera inspection, it is found that the identity of the individual characterized as a disinterested party by the respondent, as described in paragraph 19, above, is not subject to mandatory disclosure by virtue of the provisions of §17a-28(i), G.S., and it is therefore concluded that the respondent did not violate the provisions of §1-19(a), G.S., by redacting such information from the records provided to the complainant.
23. It is found that the respondents inadvertent failure to redact the name of the disinterested party from the records provided to Attorney Chromik does not bar it from redacting such information from the records later provided directly to the complainant.
24. However, it is found that the respondent violated the promptness provision of §1-19(a), G.S., by failing to provide the complainant with the several pages of records described in paragraph 9, above, until several months after his request.
25. The Commission declines to impose sanctions upon the respondent under the facts and circumstances of this case.
The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint:
1. Henceforth, the respondent shall comply with the promptness requirement of §1-19(a), G.S.
Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of July 8, 1998.
_________________________ Doris V. Luetjen Acting Clerk of the Commission
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:
James F. McLaughlin 4 Victory Street Shelton, CT 06484
State of Connecticut, Department of Children & Families c/o Atty. William Bumpus Assistant Attorney General 110 Sherman Street Hartford, CT 06105
__________________________ Doris V. Luetjen Acting Clerk of the Commission