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Prison Legal News v. Corizon Health, NM, Complaint, censorship, 2016

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STATE OF NEW MEXICO
COUNTY OF SANTA FE
FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT
PRISON LEGAL NEWS, a project of the
HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENSE CENTER, individually
and on behalf of PRISON LEGAL
NEWS NEW MEXICO SUBSCRIBERS,
Plaintiffs,
vs.

No.

CORIZON HEALTH and GERRIE
BECKER, PROCUREMENT SPECIALIST
FOR THE STATE OF NEW MEXICO,
Defendants.
COMPLAINT FOR DECLARATORY JUDGMENT UNDER THE
NEW MEXICO CONSTITUTION AND TO
ENFORCE THE INSPECTION OF PUBLIC RECORDS ACT,
FOR PRODUCTION OF PUBLIC RECORDS,
AND FOR DAMAGES, COSTS, AND ATTORNEYS’ FEES
INTRODUCTION1
Our lawmakers wisely recognize that an informed electorate is integral to a functional
democracy. To ensure an informed electorate, all persons are entitled to the greatest possible
information concerning the management and operation of government affairs. Public records are
the principal means by which the people and the media monitor those affairs, and their right to
access them is protected both by state law and the state constitution. When the state contracts
with private companies to stand in its shoes, those companies must also comply with this state’s
public records laws and constitution. The people of the State of New Mexico and the press do
not contract away their right to inspect government records when the state hires private

This introduction summarizes the facts asserted herein and does not constitute a paragraph to
which Defendants need respond. The enumerated paragraphs follow.
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companies to satisfy its core functions, including corrections and the provision of medical
services to the incarcerated.
Corrections serves one of the most quintessential government functions and inherently
operates in the shadows: the liberty of inmates is severely curtailed, and they simply do not
have platform or occasion to expose government abuses that they may witness. Prison Legal
News, a non-profit project of the Human Rights Defense Center, strives to bring transparency to
detention facility operations throughout the country by publishing an award winning, nationallydistributed monthly news magazine that reports on criminal justice and corrections-related
issues. To do so, Prison Legal News is largely dependent upon the availability of public records.
In this case, Prison Legal News sought public records from Corizon Health regarding
litigation, settlements, and verdicts related to its business activities on behalf of the New Mexico
Corrections Department and, in turn, New Mexicans. Corizon Health is a private, for-profit
corporation and the largest provider of correctional health services in the country. It only exists
to fulfill the need for this constitutionally necessary government function and does so solely with
government dollars and on government property. Indeed, New Mexicans indirectly pay Corizon
Health tens of millions of dollars a year to provide medical services to inmates. Still, Corizon
Health refuses to comply with this state’s public records laws and has failed to provide Prison
Legal News with records confirming allegations of misconduct against its New Mexico
employees and related settlements and verdicts, claiming those details were confidential and/or
the corporation had not retained the records.
Corizon Health cannot obscure its operations and refuse the press access to public records
when it solely exists to serve a core government function, and the government cannot contract
away its legal obligation to provide records related to the conduct of its core operations to

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members of the press and the public who might request that information. Otherwise, New
Mexicans would not be able to determine whether their tax dollars have been spent wisely or
whether they need to petition the government for change.
COMES NOW Prison Legal News (“PLN”), by and through its attorneys, Laura Schauer
Ives, Kennedy Kennedy & Ives, LLC, Lance Weber and Sabarish Neelakanta, Human Rights
Defense Center, and brings this action to enforce the provisions of the Inspection of Public
Records Act, NMSA 1978 § 14-2-1 et seq. (“IPRA”), including compelling Corizon Health
(“Corizon”) to disclose the requested public records and for award of attorneys’ fees, damages,
and costs. PLN further seeks declaration that 1) private corporations standing in the shoes of
government are subject to IPRA, 2) that the State of New Mexico cannot contract away its
lawful duties under IPRA, 3) that Article II, Section 17 of the New Mexico Constitution protects
the liberty of the press and the coextensive right of the public to access information about the
conduct of government affairs, and 4) apart from IPRA, under Article II, Section 17, private
corporations performing public functions are constitutionally compelled to disclose public
records to the press and public.
JURISDICTION, VENUE, AND PARTIES
1.

This Court has jurisdiction of the subject matter of this action pursuant to the New Mexico

Constitution, Art. VI, § 13 and NMSA 1978 § 38-3-1. This Court has personal jurisdiction over
Plaintiff and Defendants.
2.

Venue is proper in Santa Fe County, New Mexico, pursuant to NMSA 1978 Section 38-3-

1(A) because PLN subscribers and Defendant Gerrie Becker may be found and/or reside in the
judicial district.

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3.

Plaintiff PLN—a project of the Human Rights Defense Center—is a 501(c)(3) non-profit

organization that publishes and distributes a monthly magazine that reports on criminal justice
issues and prison and jail-related civil litigation, with an emphasis on prisoners’ rights. PLN has
published continuously since 1990. New Mexican attorneys, inmates, and persons generally
interested in criminal justice and prison and jail-related litigation subscribe to PLN. PLN is a
registered trade name of the Human Rights Defense Center, a Washington state nonprofit
organization and a person under IPRA. See NMSA 1978 § 14-2-6(C).
4.

Defendant Corizon is a foreign corporation admitted to do business in New Mexico and

designates and maintains a statutory agent who resides in Santa Fe County. Corizon is a resident
of the State of Tennessee and is the largest provider of correctional medical services in the country.
5.

As it is acting on behalf of the New Mexico Corrections Department (“NMCD”), Corizon

is subject to the disclosure requirements of IPRA.
6.

Gerrie Becker is a Procurement Specialist for the Purchasing Division of the State of New

Mexico, who accepted the contract between Corizon and the State of New Mexico, he operates out
of Santa Fe County and presumably accepted this contract in that county.
FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS
Corizon’s Contract with the State of New Mexico
7.

On May 30, 2012, Corizon and the State of New Mexico entered into a contract, effective

from June 1, 2012, through May 31, 2016, to provide inmate medical services in New Mexico state
correctional facilities.
8.

On information and belief, that contract covers Corizon’s operations in total and provides

for substantial profit.

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9.

Pursuant to that contract, Corizon “must submit [to NMCD] a detailed statement

accounting for all services performed and expenses incurred.”
10.

In New Mexico, Corizon operates on property owned by the State of New Mexico.

11.

NMCD must, pursuant to state and federal law, provide medical services to inmates

whether it enters into a contract with a medical provider or not.
12.

The contract between Corizon and the State of New Mexico, approved and accepted by

Procurement Specialist Gerrie Becker, did not explicitly require Corizon to maintain and disclose
public records pursuant to IPRA.
PLN’S Request for Public Records and Corizon’s Refusal to Disclose
13.

On September 1, 2015, PLN sent a public records request for settlement agreements and

other documents related to cases in which Corizon paid damages and/or attorney’s fees in cases
arising in New Mexico, New Mexico state and federal court rulings issuing injunctive or
declaratory judgments against Corizon, and any spreadsheets, summaries, lists or similar database
print-outs listing all litigation/claims concluded against Corizon, all from January 1, 2010, to
September 1, 2015. See September 1, 2015 Correspondence from PLN to Corizon Health
Corporate Office, attached as Exhibit 1.
14.

Corizon accepted PLN’s request through certified mail on September 8, 2015. See United

States Post Office Tracking Receipt, attached as Exhibit 2.
15.

On September 28, 2015, Corizon, through counsel, denied PLN’s request in whole for the

following reasons:
a.

“Information regarding litigation or claims in which Corizon Health or any
of its subsidiaries has paid $1,000 or more in damages and/or attorney fees
to a claimant, plaintiff or petitioner are protected by contractually binding
confidentiality provisions included in settlement agreements negotiated
[by] the parties, which prohibit disclosure of the amount of settlement, and
in some cases, the identities of the claimant, plaintiff or petitioner.”
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b.

“Corizon Health does not have copies of any verdict forms associated with
any claims, complaints or amended complaints filed in any New Mexico
court since January 1, 2010. The remaining information requested is again
protected by contractually binding confidentiality provisions that were
included in settlement agreements negotiated by the parties, which prohibit
disclosure of the amount of settlement, and in some cases, the identities of
the claimant, plaintiff or petitioner.”

c.

“Corizon Health is not in possession of any New Mexico state or federal
court rulings issuing injunctive or declaratory judgments against Corizon,
[from] January 1, 2010 through the date of your request.”

d.

“Corizon Health is not in possession of any New Mexico state or federal
court rulings in which a court held Corizon, its counsel, or any Corizon
employee in contempt of court, and/or issued sanctions against Corizon, its
counsel or any Corizon employee, from January 1, 2010 through the date of
your request.”

e.

“Information regarding litigation or claims in which Corizon Health or any
of its subsidiaries has paid $1000 or more in damages and/or attorney fees
to a claimant, plaintiff or petitioner are protected by contractually binding
confidentiality provisions included in settlement agreements negotiated by
the parties, which prohibit disclosure of the amount of settlement and in
some cases the identities of the claimant, plaintiff or petitioner.”

See September 28, 2015 Correspondence from Nicole M. Charlebois to Paul Wright,
attached as Exhibit 3.
16.

Since the September 28, 2015 letter from Corizon’s counsel, Corizon has not provided any

documents responsive to PLN’s request nor made any such documents available for PLN’s
inspection.
17.

Corizon’s response indicates that some of the documents PLN requested are in its

possession and others either never existed or were not retained as required by New Mexico law.
Causes of Action
I.
18.

Right of Access to Public Records pursuant to IPRA against Corizon and Gerrie Becker
Paragraphs 1-17 are hereby incorporated by reference as if fully set forth herein.

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19.

PLN’s September 1, 2015 request conformed with IPRA’s requirements.

20.

New Mexico recognizes “that a representative government is dependent upon an informed

electorate…[and] all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs
of the government….” NMSA 1978 § 14-2-5.
21.

And our Supreme Court has recognized, “IPRA is intended to ensure that the public

servants of New Mexico remain accountable to the people they serve. The citizen’s right to know
is the rule and secrecy is the exception.” Republican Party of New Mexico v. New Mexico
Taxation and Revenue Dep’t, 2012-NMSC-026, ¶ 7 (internal quotations and citations omitted).
22.

The State of New Mexico cannot contract away its obligations under IPRA; and its contract

with Corizon, executed by Gerrie Becker, should have ensured that Corizon complied with
regulations regarding the maintenance of public records and IPRA.
23.

Corizon is a “public body” as defined by IPRA, which includes “the executive, legislative

and judicial branches of state and local governments and all advisory boards, commissions,
agencies or entities created by the constitution or any branch of government that receives any
public funding….” NMSA 1978 §14-2-6.
24.

In providing medical services to New Mexico inmates, Corizon’s operations in New

Mexico are wholly funded by the State of New Mexico; on State of New Mexico property; fulfill
a quintessential core governmental function that the State of New Mexico is constitutionally
obligated to provide and would otherwise have to undertake; heavily monitored by the State of
New Mexico; and serves to benefit persons in the custody of the NMCD. See State ex rel. Toomey
v. City of Truth or Consequences, 2012-NMCA-104, ¶ 13.
25.

As used in the IPRA, the term “public records" means all documents, papers, letters, books,

maps, tapes, photographs, recordings and other materials, regardless of physical form or

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characteristics, that are used, created, received, maintained or held by or on behalf of any public
body and relate to public business, whether or not the records are required by law to be created or
maintained. NMSA 1978 § 14-2-6.
26.

The records PLN requested in its September 1, 2015 letter to Corizon are not exempted

from disclosure under IPRA, statutory or regulatory exceptions, privileges adopted by the New
Mexico Supreme Court, or grounded in the constitution.
27.

Specifically, settlements involving public entities are not exempted under IPRA.

28.

Protected personal identifier information contained in public records may be redacted by a

public body before inspection or copying of a record. The presence of protected personal identifier
information on a record does not exempt the record from inspection. NMSA 1978 § 14-2-1B.
(Amended by 2011, c. 134, s. 2, eff. 7/1/2011).
29.

If any of the information is exempt, Corizon has made no attempt to disclose non-exempt

public records in their possession.
30.

In this matter, the public’s right to access the public records sought by PLN outweighs any

interest in confidentiality or claims of privilege for the specific request.
31.

Corizon has not complied with its statutory obligation to comply with IPRA since at least

September 28, 2015.
32.

IPRA provides that the requester may be awarded damages when the failure to provide a

timely explanation of a denial is determined to be unreasonable. NMSA 1978 § 14-2-11(C). The
award of damages for failure to provide a timely explanation of a denial shall not exceed one
hundred dollars ($100) per day. Id.
33.

Corizon’s failure to maintain and/or make the responsive documents in its possession

available for inspection is unlawful and unreasonable.

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34.

IPRA provides that the court shall award damages, costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees to

any person whose written request has been denied and is successful in a court action to enforce the
provisions of IPRA. NMSA 1978 §14-2-12D.
35.

IPRA provides that a district court may issue a writ of mandamus or order an injunction or

other appropriate remedy to enforce the provisions of IPRA. NMSA 1978 § 14-2-12B.
Accordingly, PLN seeks an Order from this court requiring Corizon to produce the public records
sought by PLN within fifteen (15) days from the date of the Order of this court.
II.

Freedom of the Press and Coextensive Right to Access Information concerning
Governmental Affairs

36.

Paragraphs 1-35 are hereby incorporated by reference as if fully set forth herein.

37.

New Mexico’s Constitution provides that “[e]very person may freely speak, write and

publish his sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right; and no law
shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press.” N.M. Const. Art. II, §
17. These protections are independent of, and provide more protection than, the limitations placed
on the powers of states by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
38.

As the medical provider for the New Mexico Correctional Department, Corizon is a state

actor.
39.

As a publisher of a nationally distributed magazine, PLN is the press.

40.

PLN has standing to assert a claim for denial of access to public information on behalf of

its subscribers.
41.

The protection of the liberty of the press as stated in Article II, Section 17 of the New

Mexico Constitution necessarily protects the right of the public to access information and private
corporations performing public functions are constitutionally compelled to disclose public records
to the press.
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42.

Corizon’s denial of access to public records to PLN abridges PLN’s speech and the

coextensive right of its subscribers of access to information regarding government affairs.
43.

Accordingly, Plaintiffs are entitled to declaratory and injunctive relief as requested in this

Complaint.
Prayer for Relief
WHEREFORE, the Plaintiffs respectfully seek the following relief:
A.

Order Corizon to produce all information, documents, reports and other materials

relevant to PLN’s records request of September 1, 2015, and for any and all other IPRA
requests submitted to it within the two years immediately preceding the filing of this
complaint.
B.

Grant PLN a permanent injunction, directing Corizon to comply with all past and

future public records requests in accordance with the terms of the IPRA.
C.

Declare that private contractors, such as Corizon, are subject to the State of New

Mexico’s IPRA.
D.

Declare that PLN has a constitutional right to public records under Art. II, Sec. 18

and that its subscribers have a coextensive right to access information concerning
government affairs.
E.

Declare that apart from IPRA and under Art. II, Sec. 18, the State of New Mexico

cannot contract away its obligation to provide transparency to the press and the electorate
who relies on the press for information.
F.

Award damages, costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees to PLN.

G.

Grant such other and further relief as to the Court deems proper.

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Respectfully Submitted,
KENNEDY KENNEDY & IVES, LLC
/s/ Laura Schauer Ives______
Laura Schauer Ives
1000 2nd Street NW
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87102
(505) 244-1400; Fax (505) 244-1406
HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENSE CENTER
/s/ Lance Weber
Lance Weber, FL Bar # 104550*
Sabarish Neelakanta, FL Bar # 26623*
P.O. Box 1151
Lake Worth, FL 33460
(561) 360-2523; Fax (866) 735-7136
*Pro Hac Vice Applications to be filed
Attorneys for Plaintiffs

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EXHIBIT 1

EXHIBIT 2

EXHIBIT 3



 

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