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Newsome v. Centurion Correctional Healthcare of New Mexico

Post categories

  1. Freedom of Information

Court: New Mexico Court of Appeals

Date Filed: April 8, 2024

Background: Centurion Correctional Healthcare of New Mexico, a company that held the contract to oversee the medical and healthcare needs of individuals incarcerated in New Mexico state prisons and jails, received a public records request from Thomas Newsome. Newsome directed his request to Centurion without naming a specific public records custodian because the contractor had not designated someone to act as custodian, as New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act requires of public bodies who receive public records requests.

After Centurion failed to disclose records in response to his request, Newsome filed suit, naming Centurion as the defendant. Instead of reaching the merits of Newsome’s claims, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of Centurion and directed Newsome to refile suit naming the custodian Centurion had selected during litigation. Newsome appealed. Centurion argues that it is not a “public body” under IPRA and was not required to designate a public records custodian in the first place.

Our Position: The New Mexico Court of Appeals should reverse the district court’s decision and remand for further proceedings. 

  • A private contractor acting as the “alter ego” of a public body is subject to IPRA and required to designate a public records custodian.
  • Based on the New Mexico Court of Appeals’s precedent, Centurion is the functional equivalent of a public body subject to IPRA, and once it is deemed the functional equivalent, it is subject to suit. It follows from this that it is also the proper recipient of public records requests.
  • In an age of ever-increasing privatization of government functions, access to public records held by private contractors performing those functions is necessary to safeguard the public’s right to know.

Quote: “The value of public records statutes like IPRA to journalists reporting on private contractors standing in the shoes of government entities cannot be overstated. In particular, news coverage about how private contractors operate or provide services in prisons often depends on public records requests, given obstacles inherent in obtaining reliable information about carceral settings. Consequently, public records requests — and lawsuits to force compliance with those requests — have uncovered profound deficiencies in the care administered by prison healthcare contractors.”

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