FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
|In the Matter of a Complaint by||FINAL DECISION|
|George C. Springer, Jr.,|
|against||Docket #FIC 1998-080|
City of New
Britain; and Office of Corporation
Counsel, City of New Britain,
|Respondents||August 12, 1998|
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on April 27, 1998, at which time the complainant and the respondents appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint. The case caption has been corrected to accurately reflect the names of the respondents.
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(1), G.S.
2. By letter dated March 10, 1998, the complainant requested that the respondents provide him with access to a series of records, numbering 1 through 79, which the complainant believes are maintained by the respondents and their clients, including the New Britain department of parks and recreation, the office of the mayor, the office of the city clerk, the common council, and the department of finance. Such records are summarized as follows:
a. requests 1-18, 30-33, 38-43, 48, 50, 69-75, 77-79 relate to a parcel of real property in New Britain known as the Stanley Street property, including those pertaining to: the lease, other agreements, or motions regarding the use of such property; assessments of such property, any alterations, modifications, improvements, repairs, made to such property; the maintenance of such property; and any payments made concerning such property;
b. requests 19-29, 34-37, and 44-47, relate to records pertaining to James and Judith Amato, who are clients of the complainant, an attorney;
c. requests 52-57 and 58-68 relate to a property in New Britain known as the Hungerford Park Property, and any alterations, modifications, or maintenance made on or to such property, as well as any payments regarding such property;
d. request 49 relates to appointments made to the parks and recreation commission;
e. requests 51 and 57a relate to Michael Hadvabs and payments made to him, as well as information relating to his lease with the city of New Britain; and
f. request 76 relates to a separate property on Stanley Street and any records pertaining thereto.
3. By letter dated March 13, 1998, the respondents informed the complainant that he was already in possession of records responsive to requests 1-3, 6-7, 69-72, 74-75, and 77-78 and that if he wished copies thereof, such copies would be supplied at the statutory fee of fifty cents per page. The respondents further informed the complainant that the remainder of his request was denied, based upon the provisions of §1-19b(b)(1), G.S.
4. By letter dated March 23, 1998 and filed March 24, 1998, the complainant appealed to the Commission, alleging that the respondent violated the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act by denying him access to the requested records.
5. It is found that the requested records are public records within the meaning of §1-19(a), G.S.
6. 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, 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 hours or to receive a copy of such records in accordance with the provisions of section 1- 15 .
7. Section 1-15(a), G.S., provides in relevant part that:
[a]ny person applying in writing shall receive, promptly upon request, a plain or certified copy of any public record. The fee for any copy provided in accordance with the [FOI] act by [municipal] public agencies, as defined in section 1- 18a, shall not exceed fifty cents per page .
8. At the hearing on this matter, the complainant contended that the response described in paragraph 3, above, was deficient in that he had requested access to, not copies of, the records at issue, and that therefore the estimate of copying costs was inappropriate.
9. It is found that the response described in paragraph 3, above, makes clear that the records specified therein were available to the complainant; and it is further found that a simple telephone call from the complainant would likely have resolved the underlying misunderstanding on the part of the respondents.
10. Therefore, under the facts and circumstances of this case, it is found that the respondents substantially complied with the requirements of the FOI Act with respect to the records specified in paragraph 3, above. Accordingly, it is concluded that, with respect to the records specified in paragraph 3, above, the respondents did not violate §1- 19(a), G.S., by offering to provide the complainant with copies of, rather than access to, such records.
11. The respondents contend that the remaining records at issue are not subject to mandatory disclosure pursuant to §1-19b(b)(1), G.S., which provides in relevant part that:
[n]othing in the [FOI] Act shall be deemed in any manner to affect the status of judicial records as they existed prior to October 1, 1975, nor to limit the rights of litigants, including parties to administrative proceedings, under the laws of discovery of this state .
12. It is found that, at the time of the complainants request and at the time of the hearing on this matter, the complainant represented clients James and Judith Amato, who were engaged in litigation with the City of New Britain, which is the client of the respondents.
13. It is further found that the Amatos made a discovery request of the city in the litigation described in paragraph 12, above, and that such discovery request mirrors the FOI request described in paragraph 2, above. It is further found that the respondents, who represented the city in such litigation, produced the records described in paragraph 3, above, but objected to production of the remaining records, alternatively based upon the grounds that the discovery request was overbroad, that such request sought irrelevant documents, and that certain requested documents were protected by the attorney-client privilege. It is further found that such discovery request and parallel objection were pending at all times pertinent to this matter before the Commission.
14. The respondents contend that the complainants FOI request is an attempt to circumvent the rules of discovery and that any order of the Commission to release the records at issue would limit the respondents rights in the litigation described in paragraph 12, above.
15. However, §1-19b(b)(1), G.S., does not provide the broad exemption from disclosure argued by the respondents. Chief of Police, Hartford Police Department v. Freedom of Information Commission, No. CV96-0561310, Sup. Ct., Judicial District of Hartford/New Britain (Aronson, J.) (July 30, 1997). Rather, such provision acts as a screening process for the Commission to determine if disclosure would limit litigants rights in discovery. Id.
16. It is found that the respondents failed to prove that release of the remaining requested records to the complainant would limit their discovery rights in the litigation described in paragraph 12, above. It is therefore concluded that §1-19b(b)(1), G.S., does not provide a basis to withhold such records and consequently it is concluded that the respondents violated §1-19(a), G.S., by failing to promptly provide the complainant with access to the records described in paragraph 2, above, excepting those records already made available and specified in paragraph 3, above.
The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint:
1. If they have not already done so, the respondents shall forthwith provide the complainant with access to the records described in paragraph 2 of the findings, above.
2. Henceforth, the respondents shall strictly comply with the provisions of §1- 19(a), G.S. Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of August 12, 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:
George C. Springer 99 West Main Street, Suite 301 New Britain, CT 06051
Corporation Counsel, City of New Britain; and Office of Corporation Counsel, City of New Britain c/o Atty. Mary C. Pokorski Assistant City Attorney City of New Britain 27 West Main Street New Britain, CT 06051
__________________________ Doris V. Luetjen Acting Clerk of the Commission