FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by

FINAL DECISION

Holly J. Blinkoff,

 

Complainants

 

 

against

Docket #FIC 2000-615

Mayor, City of Torrington; Purchasing

Agent, City of Torrington; Planning and

Zoning Department, City of Torrington;

Comptroller, City of Torrington; City Clerk,

City of Torrington; Fire Marshal, City of

Torrington; and Chief, Police Department,

City of Torrington,

 

 

Respondents

October 24, 2001

 

 

 

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on March 7, 2001, August 28, 2001, and September 10, 2001, at which times the complainant and the respondents appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint.  For purposes of hearing, this matter was consolidated with Docket #FIC 2000-651, John Carter v. Purchasing Department, City of Torrington (hereinafter ďDocket #FIC 2000-651Ē).

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 ß1-200(1), G.S.

 

2.      It is found that on or about October 20, 2000, the complainant submitted written requests for copies of records to each of the named respondents (hereinafter ďOctober 20, 2000 request or requestsĒ).

 

3.      It is also found that the complainant inquired about her request at the respondent city clerkís office and was informed by the city clerk that all of her requests had been picked up at each department by the city attorney and that the attorney advised each department that the City of Torrington would appeal the requests.  It is further found that the complainant made inquiries about her requests at other departments and was informed that, pursuant to instructions from the respondent mayor and the city attorney, her requests would not be complied with and that she should direct her inquiries to the city attorney.

4.      Having been informed that her October 20, 2000 requests would not be honored, the complainant appealed to this Commission by letter dated November 11, 2000 and filed on November 13, 2000, alleging that all of the named respondents violated the Freedom of Information (hereinafter ďFOIĒ) Act by failing to respond to or comply with her requests.

 

5.      Section 1-210(a), G.S., provides in relevant part that:

 

[e]xcept 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.

 

6.      Section 1-212(a), G.S., provides in relevant part that ď[a]ny person applying in writing shall receive, promptly upon request, a plain or certified copy of any public record . . . .Ē

 

7.      It is found that to the extent records exist that are responsive to the complainantís requests, such records are public records within the meaning of ß1-210(a), G.S.

 

8.      It is also found that each of the named respondents maintain records that are responsive to the complainantís requests.

 

9.      At the hearing on this matter, the complainant stated that the respondent city clerk complied with her October 20, 2000 request after she filed the complaint in this matter.  Notwithstanding the delay in gaining access to the requested records, the complainant stated that she wished to withdraw her complaint against the city clerk.

 

10.  It is found that up to and including the date of the hearing on this matter, none of the named respondents, with the exception of the city clerk, provided the complainant with copies of the requested records.

 

11.  It is also found that the complainantís requests were collected by the city attorney for the City of Torrington and that each of the named respondents were directed by either the city attorney or the respondent mayor not to comply with complainantís requests.

 

12.  It is further found that upon receipt of the complainantís requests, some of the named respondents, specifically the respondent comptroller and the respondent fire marshal, had compiled or had started to compile the responsive records and were willing to provide such records to the complainant but did not do so after receiving the directive of the respondent mayor and the city attorney.

 

13.  At the hearing on this matter, the respondents made no claim that any of the requested records are exempt from the disclosure provisions of the FOI Act.  Rather, the respondents maintained that the complainant submitted her requests, in concert with John Carter (the complainant in Docket #FIC 2000-651), for the purpose of harassing the respondents.  Specifically, the respondents claimed that the complainant submits records requests, which are duplicative of earlier requests made by her and which have already been fulfilled by the respondents.  The respondents also claimed that many of the complainantís records requests are overly broad, burdensome to fulfill, and would require research.  Finally, the respondents claimed that their failure to respond to the complainantís records requests was appropriate and that they should not be required to comply with such requests.

 

14.  With respect to the respondentsí claim of harassment, ß1-206(b)(2), G.S., provides in relevant part that:

 

If the commission finds that a person has taken an appeal under this subsection frivolously, without reasonable grounds and solely for the purpose of harassing the agency from which the appeal has been taken, after such person has been given an opportunity to be heard at a hearing conducted in accordance with sections 4-176e to 4-184, inclusive, the commission may, in its discretion, impose against that person a civil penalty of not less than twenty dollars nor more than one thousand dollars. . . .

 

15.  With respect to the respondent mayor, it is found that the respondent has provided some records to the complainantís attorney in the past, in connection with civil litigation that is pending between the complainant and the City of Torrington. 

 

16.  It is further found that many of the records provided by the respondent mayor in the past are similar to or duplicative of the records requested in the complainantís October 20, 2000 request. 

 

17.  It is further found however, that some of the records requested in the complainantís October 20, 2000 request to the respondent mayor have not been provided to the complainant in the past, either in connection with the civil litigation referred to in paragraph 15, above, or otherwise.

 

18.  With respect to the respondent purchasing agent, it is found that the respondent has provided numerous records to the complainant and the complainantís attorney in the past, in response to requests from the complainant and in connection with civil litigation that is pending between the complainant and the City of Torrington. 

 

19.  It is further found that many of the records provided by the respondent purchasing agent in the past are similar to or duplicative of the records requested in the complainantís October 20, 2000 request. 

 

20.  It is further found that some of the records requested in the complainantís October 20, 2000 request to the respondent purchasing agent have not been provided to the complainant in the past, either in connection with the civil litigation or otherwise.

 

21.  With respect to the respondent planning and zoning department, it is found that the respondent has provided some records to the complainant in the past, in response to various requests from the complainant.

 

22.  It is further found that some of the records provided by the respondent planning and zoning department in the past are duplicative of four of the five records requested by the complainant in her October 20, 2000 request.

 

23.  With respect to the respondent comptroller, it is found that the respondent comptroller has provided some records to the complainant in the past, in response to various requests from the complainant.

 

24.  It is further found that some of the records provided by the respondent comptroller in the past are similar to or duplicative of the records requested in the complainantís October 20, 2000 request.

 

25.  It is further found that some of the records requested of the respondent comptroller in the complainantís October 20, 2000 request have not been provided to the complainant in the past.  

 

26.  With respect to the respondent fire marshal and the respondent police chief, it is found that the respondents provided the complainant with records in the past, in response to other requests from the complainant. 

 

27.  It is further found however, that the records provided by the respondent fire marshal and the respondent chief in the past are not similar to or duplicative of the records requested in the complainantís October 20, 2000 request.

 

28.  With respect to the complainantís October 20, 2000 requests in their entirety, it is found that nothing in the FOI Act precludes the complainant from requesting copies of records that have already been provided to her pursuant to prior requests, or to her attorney in connection with civil litigation.

 

29.  It is further found that some of the complainantís requests, as claimed by the respondents, are very broad and cover very lengthy periods of time.

 

30.  It is further found that some of the complainantís requests would be burdensome to fulfill, due to the volume of records requested and the location and organization of the files containing responsive records.

 

31.  It is further found however, that the complainantís October 20, 2000 requests to the various respondents, specifically identified the records she sought and do not require the respondents to analyze or exercise any discretion as to whether records fall within the scope of the complainantís requests. 

 

32.  Although the Commission appreciates that compliance with some of the complainantís requests would be time consuming for the reasons found in paragraphs 29 and 30, above, it is found that compliance with such requests would not require research as claimed by the respondents.  Rather, compliance with some of the complainantís requests would require a lengthy and thorough search of some of the various respondentsí files.  See Wildin v. Freedom of Information Commission, 56 Conn. App 683, 687 (2000)

 

33.  It is further found that many of the records responsive to the complainantís October 20, 2000 requests are readily available to the respondents and would not require an extensive and thorough search. 

 

34.  Further, it is found that the respondents made no attempt in those instances described in paragraphs 29 and 30, above, or in those instances in which the complainant had previously received similar or duplicative records, to contact the complainant to ascertain whether she could narrow the scope of her requests or revise such requests.

 

35.  With respect to the respondentís claim that the complainant submits her requests in concert with John Carter to harass the respondents, it is found that the complainant has a friendly relationship with Mr. Carter, and that he accompanied her on at least one occasion to public agencies in the City of Torrington to submit records requests.

 

36.  It is further found that Mr. Carter has delivered written records requests to public agencies in the City of Torrington on the complainantís behalf and that he has also picked up copies of records requested by her from such agencies.

 

37.   It is further found that the first of the twenty records requested by the complainant to the respondent purchasing agent in this case, is similar, although not identical, to Mr. Carterís November 8, 2000 request (which request is at issue in Docket #FIC 2000-651).

 

38.  It is further found, however, that the complainantís request to the respondent purchasing agent in this case was submitted almost one month before Mr. Carterís request and that there is nothing unusually significant about the similarity of the two requests in view of the fact that both requests are typical of the records requests generally received by the respondent.

 

39.  It is further found that even if the complainantís and Mr. Carterís requests were identical, nothing in the FOI Act precludes one person from seeking copies of records that have been requested by another person, even if such persons are friends.

 

40.  It is further found that the Commission has entertained only one other case involving the complainant, Docket #FIC 1998-189, Holly J. Blinkoff and Quality Sand and Gravel, Inc., D/B/A v. Comptroller, City of Torrington; Purchasing Agent, Purchasing Department, City of Torrington; and City of Torrington B&B Group, which case did not involve Mr. Carter or the records at issue in this case and in which the complainant withdrew her complaint against the respondent comptroller and the respondent purchasing was found in violation of the FOI Act.

 

41.  It is further found that there is nothing in the nature, content, language or subject matter of the complainantís October 20, 2000 requests or her appeal to the Commission to suggest that the complainant, alone or in concert with Mr. Carter, is harassing the respondents.

 

42.  It is further found that the complainant appears to genuinely be confused as to which records she previously requested and received from the named respondents.

 

43.  It is further found that the Commission decisions cited in the respondentsí memorandum of law submitted after the hearing on this matter, wherein the Commission concluded that the complainants in such matters had filed appeals frivolously, without reasonable grounds and solely for the purpose of harassing the respondents in such matters, are clearly distinguishable from this case.

 

44.  Therefore, it is further found that the respondents failed to prove that the complainantís appeal to this Commission, either alone or in concert with Mr. Carter, was taken frivolously, without reasonable grounds and solely for the purpose of harassing the respondents, within the meaning of ß1-206(b)(2), G.S.  Indeed, the Commission would be hard pressed to find, absent substantial evidence of harassment, that an appeal had been filed frivolously, without reasonable grounds and solely for the purpose of harassment, in a case such as this wherein the respondents failed to provide any response whatsoever, and essentially ignored, the complainantís requests. 

 

45.  It is further found that even if the respondents believed that the complainantís requests were submitted to harass the respondents, the respondents still had an obligation under ß1-206(a), G.S., to respond to the complainantís request promptly.

 

46.  Based upon all of the findings above, it is concluded therefore that the respondents violated ß1-206(a), G.S., by failing to respond to the complainantís requests and further violated the disclosure provisions of ß1-210(a) and 1-212(a), G.S., by failing to comply promptly with the complainantís October 20, 2000 requests.

 

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

 

1.      The complaint is hereby dismissed as against the respondent city clerk.

 

2.      With respect to the complainantís October 20, 2000 requests, each named respondent shall provide the complainant with copies of the requested records maintained by that respondent, along with a written inventory detailing which records have been provided and which records are not maintained by that respondent.  Such records and inventories shall be provided to the complainant within one hundred and twenty (120) days of the mailing of the notice of final decision in this matter. 

 

3.      To assist the respondents in complying with paragraph 2 of the order, above, the complainant is directed to inform the respondents, in writing, of the applicable time periods for the records sought where not specified in her October 20, 2000 requests, within ten (10) days of the mailing of the notice of final decision in this matter.

 

4.      Although the Commission concludes in this case that the complainantís appeal to this Commission was not filed frivolously, without reasonable grounds and solely for the purpose of harassing the respondents, within the meaning of ß1-206(b)(2), G.S., the Commission urges the complainant to take greater care to note the records she has previously requested and received, and to limit the scope of her requests to those records she actually seeks, in order to avoid the expense of unnecessary duplicative requests and a colorable claim of harassment against her.

 

5.      The Commission notes that a number of the respondents had been in the process of complying with the complainantís requests when they were instructed not to do so by the respondent mayor and the corporation counsel.  This decision by the respondent mayor and the corporation counsel was based on an imprecise, general theory of harassment, that was much broader than the legal standard explicitly set forth in ß1-206(b)(2), G.S., and led to the violations found above.  Rather than ordering that the complainantís requests be ignored, they should have sought to address their specific concerns about the scope of, and duplication in, the complainantís requests directly with her.  The Commission urges the respondent mayor and corporation counsel to consider all of the provisions and remedies set forth in ß1-206(b)(2), G.S., if in the future, they believe action against a complainant is warranted.  Ignoring a request for public records is simply not acceptable.

 

Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of October 24, 2001.

 

_______________________________________

Petrea A. Jones

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:

 

Holly J. Blinkoff

c/o John R. Williams, Esq.

and Dawne Westbrook, Esq.

51 Elm Street, Suite 409

New Haven, CT 06510

 

Mayor, City of Torrington; Purchasing

Agent, City of Torrington; Planning and

Zoning Department, City of Torrington;

Comptroller, City of Torrington; City Clerk,

City of Torrington; Fire Marshal, City of

Torrington; and Chief, Police Department,

City of Torrington

c/o Martin A. Gould, Esq.

and Mark W. Baronas, Esq.

280 Trumbull Street, 25th floor

Hartford, CT 06103-3595

 

 

________________________________

Petrea A. Jones

Acting Clerk of the Commission

 

 

FIC/2000-615/FD/paj/10/30/2001