NO. CV 08 4018164S

STATE OF CONNECTICUT,
DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY

V.

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
COMMISSION, TOWN OF PUTNAM AND
PUTNAM BOARD OF EDUCATION
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STATE OF CONNECTICUT


SUPERIOR COURT

JUDICIAL DISTRICT OF
NEW BRITAIN


March 3, 2009

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

The plaintiff, the state of Connecticut department of public safety (department), appeals from the decision of the state freedom of information commission (commission) ordering the disclosure, at the request of defendants town of Putnam and Putnam board of education (town), of a state police report concerning a suicide. The court denies the relief sought and dismisses the appeal.

I

The commission found, and the record reveals, the following facts. By letter dated August 20, 2007, the town requested that the department disclose all existing police incident reports pertaining to Michael Giard. The department replied that it had one such report but that it was exempt from disclosure under the freedom of information act (act). See General Statutes 1-200 et seq. [Return of Record (ROR), p. 96.]

The town appealed to the commission, which conducted a hearing. A hearing officer reviewed in camera a fifteen-page police report concerning Giard's death. The hearing officer then issued a proposed decision that recommended the withholding from disclosure certain witness statements included in the report but the disclosure of the balance of the report. (ROR, pp. 83-85.)

On May 28, 2008, the full commission adopted the hearing officer's conclusions. The commission ordered that nine pages (pp. IC 2007-580-006 through IC 2007-580-014) remain exempt from disclosure pursuant to General Statutes 1-220 (b) (3) (B) because they were signed witness statements.1 The commission ordered the remaining six pages (pp. IC 2007 580-001 through IC 2007 580-005 and IC 2007 580-015) disclosed because they did not satisfy the exemption under General Statutes 1-210 (b) (2) for "[personnel ) or medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute an invasion of privacy."2 The commission found that these pages constituted a police report of a death rather than a personnel or medical or similar file. (ROR, pp. 97-98.)

The department appeals from the commission's order requiring the disclosure of the remaining six pages.

II

The court's review of the merits of an agency decision is governed by General Statutes 4-183 (j). That section provides: "[t]he court shall not substitute its judgment for that of the agency as to the weight of the evidence on questions of fact. The court shall affirm the decision of the agency unless the court finds that substantial rights of the person appealing have been prejudiced because the administrative findings, inferences, conclusions, or decisions are: (1) In violation of constitutional or statutory provisions; (2) in excess of the statutory authority of the agency; (3) made upon unlawful procedure; (4) affected by other error of law; (5) clearly erroneous in view of the reliable, probative, and substantial evidence on the whole record; or (6) arbitrary or capricious or characterized by abuse of discretion or clearly unwarranted exercise of discretion." Stated differently, "[j]udicial review of an administrative agency decision requires a court to determine whether there is substantial evidence in the administrative record to support the agency's findings of basic fact and whether the conclusions drawn from those facts are reasonable." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Schallenkamp v. DelPonte, 229 Conn. 31,40,639 A.2d 1018 (1994).

Section 1-210 (b) (2) provides that "[n]othing in the Freedom of Information Act shall be construed to require disclosure of . . . [p]ersonnel or medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute an invasion of personal privacy. . . . " When a claim for exemption is based upon 1-210 (b) (2), the entity claiming the exemption must meet a twofold burden of proof. See Perkins v. Freedom of Information Commission, 228 Conn. 158, 168, 635 A.2d 783 (1993) (under prior codification of same statute). First, the entity claiming the exemption must establish that the files are personnel, medical or similar files. Second, the entity claiming the exemption under 1-210 (b) (2) must prove that disclosure of the files would constitute an invasion of personal privacy. Id. In this case, the commission found that the department did not establish that the files are personnel, medical, or similar files, and thus did not reach the second part of the test. The court agrees with the commission's approach to the case.

The department claims that the six pages in question constitute a medical file. The determination whether a file is a "personnel or medical files and similar files" requires "a functional review of the documents at issue." Connecticut Alcohol & Drug Abuse Commission v. Freedom of Information Commission, 233 Conn. 28, 40- 41, 657 A.2d 630 (1995). "[A] 'medical' file of an individual has as one of its principal purposes the furnishing of information for making medical decisions regarding that individual. . . . " Id., 41.

The court has examined the six pages in camera. See Rocque v. Freedom of Information Commission, 255 Conn. 651, 662, 774 A.2d 957 (2001). While these pages do contain some medical and prescription information about a third party, the obvious function of that information is not to contribute to making a medical decision regarding the third party, but rather to explain the decedent's source of a means to commit suicide. Stated differently, it is apparent from reading the entire six pages that the third party, rather than providing information to a health care professional to assist in medical treatment, rendered the medical information to the police in order to assist in their investigation. The department can establish only that the file contains medical "information" but not that the file is a "medical file" under the prevailing definition. Accordingly, the commission reasonably concluded that the six pages do not constitute a medical file and therefore are not exempt from disclosure under the act.

III

The court affirms the commission's decision on the merits and dismisses the department's appeal.







Carl J. Schuman
Judge, Superior Court






1
General Statutes 1-210 (b) (3) (B) provides: "Nothing in the Freedom of Information Act shall be construed to require disclosure of ... Records of law enforcement agencies not otherwise available to the public which records were compiled in connection with the detection or investigation of crime, if the disclosure of said records would not be in the public interest because it would result in the disclosure of . . . signed statements of witnesses. . . . "


2
In full, 1-210 (b) (2) provides: "Nothing in the Freedom of Information Act shall be construed to require disclosure of . . . Personnel or medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute an invasion of privacy. . . . "