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Jacobson v. Tennessee Department of Children’s Services

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  1. Freedom of Information

Case Number: 22-0662-I

Court: The Chancery Court of Davidson County, Tennessee, for the Twentieth Judicial District at Nashville

Client: Stacy Jacobson

Petition for Access to Public Records Filed: May 9, 2022

Background: In August 2021, Stacy Jacobson, a reporter for WREG in Memphis, made a request under the Tennessee Public Records Act for records related to the 2020 death of a child that was the subject of an investigation by the state Department of Children’s Services. Jacobson specifically requested the full case file for the department’s investigation, which was heavily redacted and did not include records from its four prior investigations related to the deceased child.

The department declined to provide additional records or remove redactions from the published case file.

On behalf of Jacobson, Paul McAdoo, the Reporters Committee’s Local Legal Initiative attorney in Tennessee, filed this lawsuit challenging the department’s decision to withhold the additional records and its unwillingness to remove unlawful redactions made to the published report. The lawsuit argues that, with the exception of some redactions to ensure the confidentiality of victims and people who report child abuse, the records requested by Jacobson are public and subject to disclosure under the Public Records Act.

Jacobson’s lawsuit asks the court to order the department to turn over the requested records and issue a judgment finding that the department unlawfully withheld the records.

Quote: “There is significant public interest in the requested public records, which would shed light on the abuse-related death of a child who had past contact with the Department,” states Jacobson’s petition for access to public records. “Without the timely and complete disclosure of the full case file, the public cannot fully evaluate this tragic death and exercise its oversight function with regard to the Department.”

Update: On June 23, 2022, the court ruled that Jacobson was not entitled to fewer redactions of the case file and that the redactions were proper under Tennessee’s active criminal investigation exemption.

Filings:

2022-05-09: Petition for access to public records

2022-05-09: Memorandum of law in support of Jacobson’s petition for access to public records

2022-05-11: Order to appear and show cause

2022-06-23: Memorandum and final order on show cause hearing