Court decides 1964 records of police investigation must be kept secret
CONNECTICUT — The Contracts Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits states from passing laws that impair existing contractual obligations, bars Connecticut from retroactively applying its open records act to require disclosure of transcripts from a 1964 investigation into the Norwich Police Department, according to an early-January decision by the state Superior Court in Norwich.
The Connecticut State Library obtained the transcripts from the City of Norwich pursuant to a 1973 agreement to store the records under seal for 50 years.
A reporter for the New London Day filed an open records request in early December 1992 asking for access to the transcripts. After the library denied the request in mid-January 1993, the reporter appealed to the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission.
The Commission ordered the library to make available redacted copies of the transcripts in mid-October 1993, concluding that the documents were public. The library and the City of Norwich appealed in early November 1993 to the Superior Court of Connecticut in Norwich.
The court held that state action which substantially impairs contractual relationships violates the Contracts Clause unless the state has a significant and legitimate state interest. The court concluded that release of the documents would substantially impair the contractual relationship because the transcripts no longer would be confidential.
The parties had established an appropriate balance between privacy interests and the public’s interest in 1973, deciding to keep the historically valuable but potentially damaging documents under seal for 50 years rather than destroy them. (City of Norwich v. Freedom of Information Commission)