OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
In the Matter of a Complaint by
Kenneth D. Backman,
Docket #FIC 2000-401
November 8, 2000
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested
case on August 24, 2000, at which time the complainant 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 and conclusions of law are reached:
1. The respondent is a public agency within the meaning of §1-200(1),
letters dated June 8th, 26th, and 29th, 2000,
to the respondent, the complainant requested responses to questions regarding
CL&P’s tree trimming and removal activities in his neighborhood and for
legal and lobby efforts when Public Acts 96-182 and 99-207 were passed;
inspection reports done on the trees at issue;
set up by DOT for tree trimming and removal that CL&P has to follow on
state right of ways; and
issued by DOT to CL&P and its agents for tree removal on state right of
ways from October 1996 to the present.”
letters dated June 16th, June 29th, and July 7th,
2000, the respondent advised the complainant that his letters had been
received and that a further response would be forthcoming.
letters dated June 27th, and July 25th, 2000, to the
complainant, the respondent, while addressing some of the complainant’s
questions, informed the complainant that the Freedom of Information (“FOI”)
Act does not require that a public agency answer questions and declined to
answer his remaining questions. With
respect to the complainant’s request for permits, the respondent informed
the complainant that many of the records responsive to his request are
maintained in “inactive files” and that the agency would not engage in a
search of those files as such would be “unduly burdensome” but that copies
of responsive records that exist in active files would be compiled and
provided to him. The respondent also informed the complainant that the permits
contained the guidelines he requested. The
respondent informed the complainant that he maintained no records responsive
to his remaining requests.
letter dated July 25, 2000 and filed on July 27, 2000, the complainant
appealed to this Commission alleging that the respondent violated the FOI Act
by failing to comply with his requests. The
complainant requested the imposition of civil penalties against the
1-210(a), G.S., provides in relevant part that:
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 receive a copy of such records
in accordance with the provisions of section 1-212.
Any agency rule or regulation, or part thereof, that conflicts with the
provisions of this subsection or diminishes or curtails in any way the rights
granted by this subsection shall be void.”
7. Section 1-212(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 . . . .”
8. It is found that the requested records, to the extent that they exist and are maintained or kept on file by the respondent, are public records within the meaning of §1-210(a), G.S.
9. With respect to the complainant’s allegation that the respondent failed to adequately respond to his questions, it is concluded that the FOI Act does not require that agencies answer questions and therefore, that the respondent did not violate the FOI Act by refusing to answer the complainant’s questions.
10. With respect to the complainant’s records requests described in paragraph 2a and 2b, above, it is found that the respondent does not maintain any records responsive to such requests.
11. With respect to the complainant’s records request described in paragraph 2c, above, it is found that the only documents maintained by the respondent that are responsive to such request are permits that contain guidelines, as described in paragraph 12, below.
12. It is found that in his letter dated July 25, 2000 to the complainant, the respondent informed the complainant that current guidelines are set forth in the permits when such permits are issued and that copies of the permits were being compiled for the complainant.
13. It is found that by letter dated July 31, 2000, the respondent informed the complainant that the permits from the active files had been compiled and would be provided upon payment of $27.25 for the cost of the copies.
14. It is found that as of the date of this hearing, the complainant had not paid the cost of the copies and therefore had not received the records.
15. It is concluded therefore that the respondent did not violate §§1-210(a) or 1-212(a), G.S., with respect to the complainant’s request as described in paragraph 2c, above.
16. With respect to the complainant’s specific request for permits, as described in paragraph 2d, above, it is found that the respondent maintains inactive files and active files that contain permits issued for tree trimming and removal.
17. The respondent contends that it would be unduly burdensome to search inactive files for permits which are maintained by permit number and not by the name of the permittee and therefore that he is not required to provide the complainant with permits maintained in the inactive files.
18. It is found that absent any claim of an applicable exemption with respect to the permits maintained in the inactive files, such permits are subject to disclosure pursuant to §1-210(a), G.S.
19. Furthermore, it is concluded that while complying with the request described in paragraph 2d, above, will necessitate reviewing all permits compiled over a four year period, the FOI Act requires a public agency to comply with even a broad request for specific records. [See William E. Wildon v. FOIC CV97-0572290, Sup. Ct., Judicial District of Hartford/New Britain (1998).]
20. It is therefore concluded that the respondent violated §§1-210(a) and 1-212(a), by denying the complainant copies of permits maintained in the inactive files.
21. Notwithstanding the conclusion in paragraph 20, above, the complainant’s request for the imposition of civil penalties is hereby denied.
following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the
record concerning the above-captioned complaint.
1. The respondent shall forthwith provide the complainant with copies of all permits issued to CL&P for tree removal on state rights-of-way since October 1996 as maintained in the inactive files of the Department of Transportation.
2. In complying with paragraph 1 of the order, above, the respondent may take up to four months to provide the complainant with the requested permits, providing the complainant on a bi-weekly basis the records compiled within that time, if there be any, and may charge up to 25 cents per page for such records which charges are to be prepaid. The respondent may suspend his search for requested permits if the complainant fails to pay for one bi-weekly installment within 10 days of billing.
3. Henceforth, the respondent shall strictly comply with the disclosure provisions of §§1-210(a), and 1-212(a), G.S.
Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of November 8, 2000.
Dolores E. Tarnowski
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:
Kenneth D. Backman
108 Cornwall Avenue
Cheshire, CT 06410
James Sullivan, Commissioner,
State of Connecticut, Department
c/o Charles H. Walsh, Esq.
Assistant Attorney General
55 Elm St., PO Box 120
Hartford, CT 06141-0120
Dolores E. Tarnowski
Clerk of the Commission