Auto accident reports can be withheld, court finds
TENNESSEE–Police reports of automobile accidents investigated by the Chattanooga Police Department do not have to be disclosed, the state court of appeals in Knoxville unanimously held in early February.
Judge Don McMurray said that the reports can be withheld under a state law that makes accident reports confidential when filed with the Tennessee Department of Public Safety.
The court decided that that law also protects accident reports that are in the custody of local law enforcement agencies. It is irrational to make identical documents available from one source and unavailable from another, the court said.
The Public Records Act and the state law that makes accident reports confidential have a common subject — confidential public records — the court said.
In reading the laws together, the court ruled it was not the intention of the legislature to make the reports public under the public records law but to permit withholding the reports under the confidentiality law. “It is a well-settled principle of law that one cannot do indirectly what cannot be done directly,” the court wrote.
The chiropractic clinic had sought access to “all traffic accident reports maintained by [the police department] which relate to any accident occurring within seven days preceding the date of this letter.” (McCallie Chiropractic Clinic v. Dinsmore; Counsel: Douglas Pierce, Nashville)