By John W. Bradley, Jr., Esq.
The Connecticut Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") is a powerful tool. Sooner or later, all of us will come in contact with it. For litigators, FOIA can and should be used in conjunction with traditional discovery. You may be able to get things through FOIA that you are unable to get in discovery.
In general, FOIA regulates two broad areas: 1) The disclosure of public records; and 2) the conduct of public meetings.
The Act is administered by a five-member Commission and a 16 member staff. The Commission maintains a good website at www.state.ct.us/foi. The Commission meeting agenda, meeting minutes, regulations, Commission decisions and FOIA court decisions are all available on line through the Commission's website.
Part I. Access to Public Records
Unless otherwise excluded, "all records maintained or kept on file by any public agency, whether or not such records are required [to be kept]...shall be public records and every person shall have the right to inspect such records...or to receive a copy."
- Agency must respond to a request for records within four business days (except a personnel or medical record-see below).
- If a request is denied or deemed to denied, requestor may file a complaint to the Commission within 30 days.
Exempt Records, § 1-210
Exemptions are construed narrowly. Even security agencies must open their records concerning the administration of such agency to public inspection (§ 1-213). The major exemptions are:
1. Preliminary drafts or notes provided the Agency has determined that public interest in withholding outweighs public interest in disclosure.
2. Personnel or medical files and similar files disclosure of which would constitute an invasion of personal privacy (not automatically exempt).
3. Records of law agencies not otherwise available to the public, compiled in connection with detection or investigation of crime if disclosure would result in disclosure of: a) the identity of informants not otherwise known; b) signed statements of witnesses; c) information to be used in a prospective law enforcement action if prejudicial to such action; d) investigatory techniques not otherwise known to the general public; e) juvenile arrest records or names of victims of sexual assaults.
4. Records pertaining to strategy and negotiations with respect to pending claims or pending litigation
5A. Trade secrets
6. Test Questions/ Scoring Keys
7. The contents of real estate appraisals concerning acquisition of property until all property has been acquired
8. Statements of personal worth or financial data filed by a license applicant
9. Records with respect to collective bargaining.
10. Records exempted by federal or state statutes or communications privileged by the attorney client relationship
- Adoption Records
- Security Manuals pertaining to Prisons and Inmates
Disclosure of Personnel and Employment Records, § 1-214
If the Agency reasonably believes that the disclosure of such records would legally constitute an invasion of privacy, the Agency shall notify the employee and the collective bargaining representative, if any. The Agency shall disclose the records unless within seven/nine days the Agency received an objection from the employee.
Arrest Records, § 1-215
Arrest records shall be disclosed except juvenile arrest records or "erased records."
Uncorroborated Allegations, § 1-216
Records consisting of uncorroborated allegations of criminal activity shall be reviewed one year after creation of such records and, if the alleged criminal activity cannot be corroborated within 90 days of commencement of such review, the record shall be destroyed.
Part II. Conduct of Public Meetings
The meetings of all public agencies shall be open to the public. The minutes of the meeting must be available for public inspection within seven days. Agencies are required to file a schedule of their public meetings not later than January 31st of each year.
- The meeting agenda must be published at least 24 hours before the meeting. Items may be added to the agenda by a two-thirds vote.
- Twenty-four hours notice is required for special meetings with minutes due within 72 hours. Notice of special meeting shall specify the business to be transacted and no other business may be considered.
- No member of the public shall be required as a condition of attendance at a meeting to give his name or furnish other information.
- Videotaping and audio taping of public meetings is allowed subject only to reasonable rules to prevent disruption.
Executive Sessions § 1-200(6)
- Executive session requires a two-thirds vote and statement of the reasons.
- Attendance is limited to members of the body and persons invited to present testimony or opinion. Such invited persons may be present only during the time when their attendance is necessary. The meeting minutes shall disclose names of all persons in attendance during the executive session (except job applicants).
Executive sessions are permissible:
- For discussion concerning the appointment, employment performance evaluation, health or dismissal of a public employee (unless the employee wants the meeting open).
- Discussion of strategy and negotiation with respect to pending claims or pending litigation.
- Matters concerning security, security strategy or security devices.
- Discussion of selection of a site for purchase of real estate when publicity would cause a likelihood of increased price.
- Discussion of any matter that would result in disclosure of exempt records.