CHAIRPERSON, CONNECTICUT MEDICAL EXAMINING BOARD et al. v. FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION et al., SC 19055
Judicial District of New Britain
Freedom of Information; Whether State Medical Examining Board's Executive Session was Permissible Under General Statutes § 1-200 (6) (B) of the Freedom of Information Act. In 2009, the public defender's office filed a request for a declaratory ruling with the Connecticut medical examining board (board), seeking a determination as to whether a physician's participation in the execution of a prisoner by lethal injection would constitute a breach of medical ethics and subject the physician to disciplinary action. Thereafter, the public defender's office sent a letter to the board, stating that there was a potential conflict of interest in light of the fact that the attorney general's office represented both the board and the commissioner of the department of public health. It explained that if the board determined that any physician who participates in an execution by lethal injection would be subject to disciplinary action, the commissioner of the department of public health could face such action due to his participation in a prior execution. Accordingly, it suggested that the board should obtain outside counsel before resolving the declaratory ruling matter. During a subsequent public meeting, the board decided to convene in executive session to obtain legal advice from the attorney general's office regarding the issues raised in the letter. The public meeting was subsequently reconvened, and the board decided to deny the request for a declaratory ruling. Thereafter, the public defender's office filed a complaint with the freedom of information commission (FOIC), claiming that the executive session violated the Freedom of Information Act (act). The FOIC found in favor of the public defender's office, and the board appealed, claiming that the executive session was permissible pursuant to General Statutes § 1-200 (6) (B) of the act, which provides that an executive session is a meeting of a public agency at which the public is excluded so that the agency may engage in "strategy and negotiations with respect to pending claims . . . ." The trial court disagreed, noting that, under General Statutes § 1-200 (8), a pending claim is "a written notice to an agency which sets forth a demand for legal relief or which asserts a legal right stating the intention to institute an action in an appropriate forum if such relief or right is not granted." It concluded that the letter did not constitute a notice of a pending claim because it merely identified the existence of a possible conflict of interest. The court further opined that the mere suggestion that the board should seek outside counsel did not amount to a demand for legal relief or an assertion of a legal right. Accordingly, the court dismissed the board's appeal. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the executive session violated the act.