COMMISSIONER OF CORRECTION et al. v.
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION et al., SC 18491/18492/18493
Judicial District of New Britain
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA); Whether Disciplinary Records of Correction Officers are Exempt from Disclosure Under the FOIA. David Taylor, a prisoner, asked the department of correction (DOC) to supply him with the disciplinary records of four correction officers with whom he had a dispute. After the correction officers objected to the release of their records, the DOC denied Taylor's request for disclosure. Taylor then sought relief from the freedom of information commission (FOIC). Before the FOIC, the DOC argued that the records were exempt from disclosure under General Statutes § 1-210 (b) (18). That statute exempts public records from disclosure if the commissioner of correction (commissioner) has "reasonable grounds to believe" that the disclosure "may result in a safety risk, including the risk of harm to any person or the risk of an escape from, or a disorder in, a correctional institution . . . ." To support its claim of exemption, the DOC's deputy commissioner testified that if disciplinary records of correction officers were disclosed to inmates, the inmates could barter information obtained from those records to obtain power, weapons or drugs. One of the four correction officers testified that discipline in his "marker shop" would be threatened if his personnel records were opened to inmates. The FOIC found that the DOC's evidence consisted of mere conclusionary statements and ruled that the records were not exempt from disclosure because the DOC failed to establish that there existed reasonable grounds to believe that disclosure might result in a safety risk. In the DOC's appeal to the Superior Court, the trial court observed that the commissioner and his staff know when a particular disclosure will result in a safety risk. It ruled that the FOIC was not free to reject reasons given by the DOC for refusing to disclose records on the grounds that they were hypothetical and not based on actual events. Rather, the court held that the FOIC could reject reasons given by the DOC for refusing to disclose only if those reasons were pretextual or irrational. Applying that standard, the court reversed the FOIC's decision, ruling that the evidence established that the commissioner had reasonable grounds to believe that disclosure of the requested records might result in a safety risk and, therefore, the requested records were exempt from disclosure. In this appeal, the FOIC claims that § 1-210 (b) (18) does not apply to the disciplinary records of DOC employees. Instead, it argues that the statute only applies to preserving the confidentiality of "infrastructure and security systems" of correctional facilities to prevent escapes or other breaches of building security. Alternatively, if it is determined that § 1-210 (b) (18) applies to disciplinary records, the FOIC then claims that the evidence failed to establish that the requested records were exempt from disclosure.