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Final Decision FIC2013-004
In the Matter of a Complaint by
FINAL DECISION
Lee Rowley,
     Complainant
     against
Docket #FIC 2013-004
Director, Vital Statistics, City of New
Haven; and Vital Statistics, City of New
Haven,
     Respondents
August 28, 2013

     The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on June 3, 2013, at which time the complainant and the respondents appeared, stipulated to certain facts 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 letter filed January 3, 2013, the complainant appealed to this Commission, alleging that the respondents violated the Freedom of Information (“FOI”) Act by failing to permit him to inspect birth, marriage and death record indexes on December 28, 2012.
     3.  Section 1-200(5), G.S., provides:
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.  Section 1-212(a), G.S., provides in relevant part:  “Any person applying in writing shall receive, promptly upon request, a plain, facsimile, electronic or certified copy of any public record.”
     6.  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.
     7.  It is found that on December 28, 2012, the complainant visited the office of vital statistics in the City of New Haven in order to view birth, marriage and death indexes as part of his ongoing research of his family history.
     8.  It is found that the respondents maintain such indexes in a vault along with birth, marriage, and death certificates.  It is found that the vault is located in a restricted area of the respondents’ office. 
     9.  It is found that while access to birth, marriage, and death certificates is restricted by state statute (§§7- 51 and -51a, G.S.), the indexes are not subject to any similar restrictions. 
     10. It is found that the respondents customarily permit only supervised access to the indexes in order to ensure the records’ integrity.  It is found that the respondents customarily provide a requester with access to one index at a time, at the front counter in their office.
     11. Notwithstanding the findings in paragraph 10, above, however, it is found that when the complainant visited the respondents’ office on December 28, 2012, and asked to view the indexes, the respondents refused to permit the complainant to do so unless he became a member of a genealogical society.
     12. Section 7-51a, G.S., provides in relevant part: 
During all normal business hours, members of genealogical societies incorporated or authorized by the Secretary of the State to do business or conduct affairs in this state shall (1) have full access to all vital records in the custody of any registrar of vital statistics, including certificates, ledgers, record books, card files, indexes and database printouts, except for those records containing Social Security numbers protected pursuant to 42 USC 405 (c)(2)(C), and confidential files on adoptions, gender change, gestational agreements and paternity,...
     13. It is concluded that although §7-51a, G.S., gives members of genealogical societies full access to both the certificates and the indexes of such certificates, nothing in §7-51a, G.S., authorized the respondents to deny the complainant’s right to inspect the indexes in a reasonable manner (such as that described in paragraph 10, above) unless he became a member of a genealogical society.
     14. It is concluded that the respondents violated §1-210(a), G.S., by denying the complainant’s request to inspect the indexes.
     15. It is found that, upon the respondents’ insistence that only members of genealogical societies could have access to the indexes that he wished to view, the complainant left the respondents’ office, went to a genealogical society, paid the membership fee, and returned to the respondents’ office several hours later with proof of membership.  It is found that the respondents at that time permitted the complainant to enter the vault, where he had access to the indexes he sought to view.
     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 §1-210(a), G.S.

Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of August 28, 2013.
__________________________
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:
Lee Rowley
P.O. Box 384
Essex, CT  06426
Director, Vital Statistics, City of New Haven;
and Vital Statistics, City of New Haven
c/o Kathleen M. Foster, Esq.
Office of the Corporation Counsel
165 Church Street
New Haven, CT  06510
____________________________
Cynthia A. Cannata
Acting Clerk of the Commission

FIC/2013-004/FD/cac/8/28//2013