Final Decision FIC2013-398
In the Matter of a Complaint by
||Docket #FIC 2013-398|
First Selectman, Town of Eastford; and
Town of Eastford,
February 11, 2014
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on December 12, 2013, at which time the complainant and the respondents 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 respondents are public agencies within the meaning of §1-200(1), G.S.
2. By email dated and filed July 2, 2013, the complainant appealed to the Commission, alleging that the respondents violated the Freedom of Information (“FOI”) Act by failing to provide her with an opportunity to inspect particular files during the normal course of business. Specifically, the complainant alleged that she was prevented from viewing files pertaining to two separate properties located in the town, was well as any files pertaining to all properties owned by an individual she identified to the respondents. Specifically, the complainant alleged that, during her visit to the town offices, the respondent first selectman grabbed records out of her hands, and further alleged that he “verbally attacked her” by yelling at her to “get out” of the building, swearing, “towering over her in a threatening manner,” and cornering her in the office.
3. Section 1-200(5), G.S., defines “public records” as follows:
Public records or files means any recorded data or information relating to the conduct of the public's business prepared, owned, used, received or retained by a public agency, …whether such data or information be handwritten, typed, tape-recorded, printed, photostated, photographed or recorded by any other method.
4. 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....
5. It is concluded that the records requested by the complainant are public records within the meaning of §§1-200(5), 1-210(a), and 1-212(a), G.S.
6. It is found that, on July 2, 2013, the complainant visited the town offices and made a request to the secretary of the inland wetlands commission to inspect the records described in paragraph 2, above. It is found that the complainant did not have an appointment to inspect the records, but that, at the time she arrived at the offices, there were no other people waiting for assistance.
7. It is found that, in response to the complainant’s request to inspect, the secretary provided two files to her for inspection, and that the complainant began looking through them. It is found that the complainant also asked the secretary for copies of certain records. It is found that, while the complainant was inspecting the files, the secretary left the room, and informed the respondent first selectman that the complainant was on the premises and was seeking access to records. It is found that, after receiving this information, the first selectman instructed the secretary to permit the complainant to finish inspecting the two files that had already been provided to her, but also instructed her not to provide any additional files to the complainant for inspection because she had not made a written request to inspect. The first selectman also instructed the secretary to require the complainant to make all requests for copies in writing.
8. At the hearing in this matter, the complainant and the first selectman offered very different accounts of what happened next; for example, the first selectman denied that he raised his voice, cornered the complainant or used foul language. However, it is found that the first selectman then went to the office where the complainant was reviewing the files, told the complainant that she could not look at any files, and took the files from her before she was finished reviewing them.
9. It is further found, however, based upon the first selectman’s own testimony, that he denied the complainant access to the records that had not yet been provided to the complainant to inspect because the complainant had failed to make a written request to inspect such records. The first selectman acknowledged that this requirement applies only to this complainant.
10. In Planning and Zoning Commission of the Town of Pomfret v. Freedom of Information Commission, 2011 Conn. App. LEXIS 417, the Appellate Court, interpreting the provisions of §1-212(a), G.S., held that requests for copies of public records must be in writing. However, this Commission has consistently held that a public agency may not require requests to inspect public records to be in writing. See, e.g. David M. DeFelice v. Director of Policy and Development of the City of Bridgeport, Docket #FIC 1988-399 (January 25, 1989); Patrick O’Hara v. Director, Human Resources, Town of Monroe, et al., Docket #FIC 2006-480 (June 13, 2007); Steven Ballock v. Director of Finance, Town of Monroe, et al., Docket #FIC 2012-355 (May 22, 2013).
11. Accordingly, it is concluded that the respondents violated the FOI Act by refusing the complainant’s request to inspect public records on the ground that such request was not in writing.
12. In addition, it is also found, with regard to the files that were initially provided to, but then taken away from, the complainant, that the respondents did not provide meaningful access to such records and such action therefore constituted a denial.
13. Accordingly, it is concluded that the respondents violated the FOI Act by denying the complainant access to the records described in paragraph 12, above.
The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint:
1. Henceforth, the respondents shall strictly comply with the access requirements of §§1-210(a) and 1-212(a), G.S.
Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of February 11, 2014.
Cynthia A. Cannata
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:
211 Eastford Road
Eastford, CT 06242
First Selectman, Town of Eastford;
and Town of Eastford
c/o Eric Knapp, Esq.
Branse, Willis & Knapp, LLC
148 Eastern Boulevard
Glastonbury, CT 06033
Cynthia A. Cannata
Acting Clerk of the Commission