Final Decision FIC2013-572
In the Matter of a Complaint by
||Docket #FIC 2013-572|
President, State of Connecticut,
Middlesex Community College; and
State of Connecticut,
Middlesex Community College,
July 23, 2014
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on April 22, 2014, at which time the complainant and respondents appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint. For purposes of hearing, the above- captioned matter was consolidated with Docket #FIC 2013-593; Trenton Wright v. President, State of Connecticut, Middlesex Community College; and State of Connecticut, Middlesex Community College.
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. It is found that, by email dated September 9, 2013, the complainant made a request to the respondents “to review all correspondence between Anna Wasescha (to or from) and anyone with my name appearing in the heading or body for the dates from July 1, 2012 through Sept. 9, 2013. This includes but is not limited to: written correspondence, letters, e-mail, and notes.” The complainant also informed the respondents that he “would like to review this material by September 23, 2013.”
3. It is found that, by email dated September 9, 2013, the Director of Human Resources and Labor Relations for Middlesex Community College (“HR Director”) acknowledged, on behalf of the respondents, the complainant’s September 9th request, described in paragraph 2, above, and informed the complainant that she did not know whether the respondents would be able to produce the requested documents by September 23, 2013. The HR Director also informed the complainant that she is a one-person department with very limited time to engage in a request of this scope and that it may take more than two weeks to compile 15 months of correspondence.
4. It is found that, by email dated September 9, 2013, the complainant narrowed his records request described in paragraph 2, above, to include records from only January 1, 2013 through September 9, 2013. It is also found that the HR Director informed the complainant that she appreciated that the complainant narrowed his records request, but she still did not believe that the records could be compiled by September 23, 2013, as requested by the complainant.
5. By facsimile received and filed on September 26, 2013, the complainant appealed to this Commission, alleging that the respondents violated the Freedom of Information (“FOI”) Act by failing to provide him with a copy of the requested records, described in paragraph 2, above.
6. Section 1-200(5), G.S., defines “public records or files” as:
any recorded data or information relating to the conduct of the public’s business prepared, owned, used, received or retained by a public agency, or to which a public agency is entitled to receive a copy by law or contract under section 1-218, whether such data or information be handwritten, typed, tape-recorded, printed, photostated, photographed or recorded by any other method.
7. Section 1-210(a), G.S., provides in relevant part that:
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 . . . (3) receive a copy of such records in accordance with section 1-212.
8. Section 1-212(a), G.S., provides in relevant part that “any person applying in writing shall receive, promptly upon request, a plain, facsimile, electronic or certified copy of any public record.”
9. It is found that the records requested by the complainant are public records and must be disclosed in accordance with §§1-200(5), 1-210(a) and 1-212(a), G.S.
10. It is found that, by email dated April 18, 2014, four days prior to the hearing in this matter, the respondents informed the complainant that there were approximately 1,285 pages of responsive emails covering the period of January 2, 2013 to September 9, 2013, available for his review at the HR Director’s office. It is further found that, as of the date of the hearing in this matter, the complainant had yet to review such documents.
11. At the hearing, the complainant contended that the respondents failed to promptly provide him with records responsive to his request. He testified that he did not receive any communication from the respondents regarding his request for 221 days (from the end of September 2013 through April 18, 2014), and that such delay was excessive, unwarranted, obstructive and unreasonable, and created a hardship for the complainant who needed the requested records for a grievance proceeding.
12. The respondents contended that the delay was due to a staff shortage, and that although the respondents were aware of the complainant’s grievance proceeding, at no time did the complainant inform the respondents that the requested records were necessary for such proceeding. The respondents also testified that at the time of the complainant’s request, there was one full-time employee in the Human Resources Department. A second employee, who was on maternity leave, returned at the end of September 2013 and continued to work in the department until March 2014 at which point she left due to a promotion. Between the end of September 2013 and the end of March 2014, there were two staff members in the Human Resources Department, but the HR Director was the only employee responsible for handling FOI requests. The respondents further testified that in an attempt to respond to the complainant’s request, the HR Director first reached out to the respondent college’s information technology staff and its system office’s information technology staff. Eventually, the respondent President searched through her own email archives and printed out approximately 1300 pages of emails. The HR Director then reviewed the records to determine whether any were exempt from disclosure and determined that there were approximately 1,285 pages responsive to the complainant’s request.
13. With respect to whether the respondents’ response to the complainant’s request was prompt, the Commission has held that the meaning of the word "promptly" is a particularly fact-based question. In Advisory Opinion #51, In the Matter of a Request for Declaratory Ruling, Third Taxing District of the City of Norwalk, Applicant (Notice of Final Decision dated January 11, 1982), the Commission advised that the word "promptly," as used in §1-210(a), G.S., means quickly and without undue delay, taking into consideration all of the factors presented by a particular request.
14. The advisory opinion goes on to describe some of the factors that should be considered in weighing a request for records against other priorities: the volume of records requested; the time and personnel required to comply with a request; the time by which the person requesting records needs them; the time constraints under which the agency must complete its other work; the importance of the records to the requester, if ascertainable; and the importance to the public of completing the other agency business without the loss of the personnel time involved in complying with the request.
15. It is found that, under the facts and circumstances of this case, the respondents’ provision of the requested records was not prompt within the meaning of §§1-210(a) and 1-212(a), G.S.
16. It is concluded that the respondents violated §§1-210(a) and 1-212(a), G.S., by failing to promptly provide copies of the records, described in paragraphs 2 and 11, above, to the complainant.
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 comply with the provisions of §§1-210(a)
and 1-212(a), G.S.
Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of July 23, 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:
16 Simpson Avenue
Willimantic, CT 06226
President, State of Connecticut, Middlesex Community College; and State of Connecticut,
Middlesex Community College
c/o Mary K. Lenehan, Esq.
Assistant Attorney General
State of Connecticut,
Office of the Attorney General
55 Elm Street
P.O. Box 120
Hartford, CT 06106
Cynthia A. Cannata
Acting Clerk of the Commission