In the Matter of a Request
    for Advisory Opinion





)     Advisory Opinion   #29



Insurance Commissioner of the State of Connecticut, Applicant

)     August 29, 1977








On August 10, 1977, the Commission considered and agreed to respond to the request for an advisory ruling filed by the State Insurance Commissioner.


Specifically, the applicant inquires as to whether the State Insurance Department (hereinafter called the "Department") may decline to provide copies of approved life and health insurance forms used by insurance companies licensed in Connecticut.


The applicant states that in a typical week, the Department receives approximately 900 pages of policy forms from insurance companies. Once approved, these forms are "merely maintained" by the Department and, apparently, are available from the issuing companies themselves. According to the applicant, in most cases, requests for copies of these forms come from competing companies.


By virtue of §1‑15, General Statutes, as amended by P.A. 77-609, §3, the Department cannot charge in excess of 25 cents per page for each page of copy. The applicant suggests that in view of personnel and reproduction costs, the service of producing copies results in an expensive burden to the Department not intended by the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act.







For the reasons stated below, the Commission cannot concur with the applicant's assessment of legislative policy in this regard. Consequently, the Commission is of the opinion that the Department may not decline to provide to any person, in accordance with §1-15, General Statutes, copies of the policy forms which it maintains and which are the subject of this inquiry.


§1-18a(d), General Statutes, defines public records in part, as "any recorded data or information relating to the conduct of the public's business ... received or retained by a public agency…."  Similarly, §1-19 (a),      General Statutes, states in pertinent part:


"Except as otherwise provided by any federal law or state statute, all records maintained or kept on file by any public agency ... shall be public records and every person shall have the right to inspect or copy such records ...."


It is clear that the Department, as an executive agency of the state, is a public agency within the meaning of §1-18a (a), General Statutes. It is equally clear from the above quoted language that the forms in question are public records unless somehow exempt by federal law or state statute. The Commission is unaware of any such exemption.


§1-15, General Statutes, likewise provides no exception. It states that [a]ny person applying in writing shall receive, promptly upon request, a plain or certified copy of any public record." (Emphasis added)  It further provides that the fee for an uncertified copy of a public record shall not exceed 25 cents per page. Person is defined in §1-18a (c), General Statutes, as a "natural person, partnership, corporation, association or society."


From the foregoing review of the law, the Commission must conclude that the legislature intended that all public agencies provide upon request copies of their records unless specifically exempted from disclosure. In the absence of a specific exception, the Commission is of the opinion that the forms here in question fall within the broad statutory grant of public access.


Furthermore, the Commission rejects as irrelevant the applicant's contentions that economic disadvantage results to the Department; that the same records are available through private sources; and that in most cases, the requesting person is a competitor of the company whose forms are sought. The Commission believes that it is the duty-indeed the moral-obligation of government to serve the public. Providing copies of its records is one such service. The cost borne by an agency in rendering this service should be considered as no more than a part of the price of essential government.







Similarly, it begs the question to say that the record is also available elsewhere. A private corporation has no duty to provide copies of its forms to the public or to its competitors. The fact that certain corporate documents are available to some of the public at any given time cannot guarantee the continued availability of the documents to the whole public and should never be relied upon to excuse noncompliance with the Freedom of Information Act. Sound public policy dictates that if an agency has the record, it should produce it unless exempt. It should not send away the requesting person empty-handed merely because there is an alternative.


Finally, the Commission notes that nowhere in the Freedom of information Act is there reference to one's purpose or motive in seeking access to public records. In this regard the Commission shares with the General Assembly its Obvious concern in this post-Watergate era that whenever public officials are unnecessarily empowered to make decisions based upon their characterization of petitioning citizens, the danger exists that political and other improper considerations may infect their judgment. Thus, to conclude that a person should not receive a copy of a public record because some public official characterizes him as a competitor is a dangerous precedent. At the worst, it fails to take into account the potential for abuse in the exercise of unnecessary governmental discretion. At the least, it fails to take into account the fact that the requesting person, though a competitor, may have some other and higher purpose or motive which, although unstated and not apparent, nonetheless still exists.








                                                                                            By Order of the Freedom of
                                                                                            Information Commission


                                                                                            Helen M. Loy, Chairman of
                                                                                            of the Freedom of Information

Date  __September 14, 1977__



                                                                                                     Charlene G. Arnold, Clerk