FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION

Margaret Loris and

Kelli Hibbard,

 
  Complainants  
  against   Docket #FIC 2005-296

Board of Education,

Norwalk Public Schools,

 
  Respondent May 10, 2006
       

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on January 10, 2006, at which time the complainants and the respondent appeared 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), G.S.

 

2.  It is found that by letters dated February 28, 2005, Margaret Loris and Kelli Ann Hibbard, teachers in the West Rocks Middle School in the Norwalk Public School system (hereinafter “the complainants”), each made separate requests to review and obtain copies of “my entire personnel file held in the Human Resource Office, including but not limited to my ‘personnel files’ and my teacher evaluation files.”  It is also found that on or about March 4, 2005, the complainants paid for, and were provided with copies of their personnel and evaluation files.  This amounted to approximately 215 pages of records provided to Ms. Loris and approximately 121 pages provided to Ms. Hibbard.

3.  It is also found that by letters dated March 11, 2005, both of the complainants requested that the respondent provide them with the “entire principal’s file” and all records related to their employment which the respondent keeps in files or maintains regardless of their location, specifically, whether such records are located in their personnel files or not. 

4.  It is found that Dr. Lynne Moore, Principal, West Rocks Middle School, Norwalk Public Schools, agreed to provide access to and copies of her supervisory files that she maintained on the complainants.  Collectively, this amounted to approximately 136 copies.  Such copies were provided to the complainants on March 23, 2005.

5.  It is found that, by letters dated March 28, 2005, April 1, 2005 and June 8, 2005, complainant Loris wrote to the respondent and indicated that she had not been provided with access to all requested records.  At the hearing in this matter, complainant Hibbard testified that she too had sent a letter to the respondent on or around June 8, 2005, indicating that she had not been provided with access to all requested records.  However, the respondent maintained that it never received correspondence from complainant Hibbard dated anytime after March 11, 2005.

            6.  It is found that complainant Hibbard offered no credible evidence in support of her claim that she sent a letter to the respondent dated June 8, 2005.  Consequently, the decision in this case is based on the credible testimony and evidence provided by the respondent.

7.  By letter of complaint dated June 20, 2005, and filed with the Commission on June 22, 2005, the complainants appealed to the Commission alleging that the respondent violated the Freedom of Information Act by failing to fully comply with their requests for records dated March 11, 2005, April 1, 2005 and June 8, 2005. 

 

8.  By letter dated January 7, 2006, the respondent filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on jurisdictional grounds alleging that the statute of limitations set forth in 1-206(b)(1), G.S., was exceeded.

 

9.  With respect to the question of jurisdiction, 1-206(b)(1), G.S., in relevant part, provides:

 

Any person denied the right to inspect or copy records under section 1-210 or wrongfully denied the right to attend any meeting of a public agency or denied any other right conferred by the Freedom of Information Act may appeal therefrom to the Freedom of Information Commission, by filing a notice of appeal with said commission.  A notice of appeal shall be filed within thirty days after such denial, except in the case of an unnoticed or secret meeting, in which case the appeal shall be filed within thirty days after the person filing the appeal receives notice in fact that such meeting was held.

 

10.  It is found that complainant Loris filed letters requesting records that were dated March 11, 2005, March 28, April 1, 2005 and June 8, 2005.  However, complainant Hibbard did not make a request for records in any letters dated after March 11, 2005. 

 

11.  After consideration of the notice of appeal dated June 20, 2005, and filed with the Commission on June 22, 2005, and construing all allegations most favorably to the complainants, it is found that only complainant Loris timely filed the appeal in this matter.  Therefore, the respondent’s motion to dismiss with respect to complainant Hibbard is hereby granted.

 

12.  Section 1-210(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 (1) inspect such records promptly during regular office or business hours …or (3) receive a copy of such records in accordance with section 1-212. 

13.  Section 1-212(a), G.S., further provides, in relevant part:

Any person applying in writing shall receive, promptly upon request, a plain or certified copy of any public record. 

14.  At the hearing on this matter, the complainants raised similar arguments.  However, in view of paragraph 11, above, concluding that complainant Hibbard did not timely file her appeal, hereinafter, reference will only be made to complainant Loris (hereinafter “the complainant”).  In this regard, the complainant explained that she believed there are additional records responsive to her requests that were not provided to her.  The complainant maintained that there is correspondence including, but not limited to attendance records, material regarding various issues concerning students, evaluation documents, grievances, an “improvement plan” and complimentary letters from parents.  The respondent maintained that the complainant was provided with all the records responsive to her request for “personnel files” that are maintained by the respondent and that no other records exist.

 

15.  It is concluded that the files and records described in paragraph 14, above, constitute “public records” within the meaning of 1-210(a), G.S.

16.  It is found that the complainant’s March 11, 2005, March 28, 2005, and June 8, 2005 requests for “personnel files” or “principal’s files” suggests that the complainant’s requests for personnel records were not limited to records that are physically maintained in a file labeled “personnel file,” but rather that the complainant’s requests were for records including, but not limited to those listed in paragraph 14, above.  In this regard, the complainant’s letter of March 11, 2005 sought any and all documents related to her employment which the respondent keeps in files or maintains regardless of their location, specifically, whether such records are located in their personnel files or not.

 

 

17.  It is found that the respondent maintains or keeps on file certain files containing those listed items in paragraph 14, above, that have not been provided to the complainant.

 

18.  It is found that the files and records described in paragraph 14, above, are responsive to the complainant’s requests as described in paragraphs 3 and 5, above.

 

19.  It is therefore concluded that to the extent that the respondent maintains records described in paragraph 14 above, and failed to provide the complainant with such records promptly, the respondent violated 1-210(a), G.S.

 

20.  By letter dated January 7, 2006, the respondent filed a motion for the imposition of civil penalties against the complainant for harassment pursuant to 1-206(b)(2), G.S.

 

21.  With respect to the respondent’s request for civil penalties against the complainant, 1-206(b)(2), G.S., provides in relevant part:

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. …

22.  It is found, particularly in view of the conclusion reached in paragraph 19, above, that the respondent violated 1-210(a), G.S., in this matter, that the complainant did not take this appeal frivolously, without reasonable grounds, and solely for the purpose of harassing the respondent.  Therefore, 1-206(b)(2), G.S., is not applicable in this case and no civil penalty is warranted against the complainant.

 

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

 

1.  Forthwith, the respondent shall provide the complainant with a copy of the records described in paragraph 14 of the findings, above, that have not been provided to the complainant.

 

2.  Henceforth, the respondent shall strictly comply with the provision of 1-210(a), G.S.

 

Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of May 10, 2006.

 

________________________________

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:

 

Margaret Loris and

Kelli Hibbard

c/o Elizabeth Maurer, Esq. and

Daniel P. Hunsberger, Esq.

871 Ethan Allen Highway, Suite 202

Ridgefield, CT 06877

 

Board of Education,

Norwalk Public Schools

c/o Roseann G. Padula, Esq.

24 Stony Hill Road, Suite 106

Bethel, CT 06801-1166

 

 

 

___________________________________

Petrea A. Jones

Acting Clerk of the Commission

 

 

 

FIC/2005-296FD/paj/5/15/2006