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Court overturns $20 million fee for record request

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         CONNECTICUT         Freedom of Information         Jul 29, 2002    

Court overturns $20 million fee for record request

  • The state Supreme Court ruled that a fee of $20.3 million, charged to a newspaper after it requested criminal records pursuant to provisions in the state’s Freedom of Information Act, was calculated incorrectly by using an inapplicable statute.

A $20.3 million fee charged to The Hartford Courant for a Freedom of Information Act request was overturned on July 23 by the Connecticut Supreme Court, which determined that the state’s Department of Public Safety applied the wrong statutory provision in calculating the fee.

Jack Dolan, a reporter for The Courant, requested “a digital copy of all the field of information typically produced on a Bureau of Identification rap sheet for every adult within the database” from the Department of Public Safety and agreed to pay a fee equal to what it would cost the department to make an electronic copy of the records.

Department officials responded that they did not have the technological resources to produce the requested documents and told Dolan that the fee for complying with the request would be $20.3 million based on a statute that governs a criminal history record information search. Under that statute, The Courant would be required to pay $25 for each of the 815,000 records that were in the database.

Justice Christine S. Vertefeuille wrote that the requested information did not fall into the category of an individual criminal history record search and instead was governed by the provisions in the state’s FOI Act.

“Were we to hold otherwise, the fee for the plaintiff’s request would be $20,375,000, a result that would have the practical effect of denying the plaintiff access to records that, by statute, must be made available to the public,” Vertefeuille wrote.

(Hartford Courant v. Freedom of Information Commission; Media counsel: Ralph G. Elliot) JLW

© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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