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Federal Prisoner Gets Medical Records

A federal prisoner filed a request for his medical records under the U.S. Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. 552a. The Bureau of Prisons (BOP), released 56 pages of the prisoner's medical file, but withheld the remaining 66 pages of files, which contained the evaluations and opinions of the physicians who treated him. The U.S. District Court ordered all of the records disclosed, saying: "The BOP's actions in this case ... are inconsistent with the requirements of the Privacy Act. The intention of the Act is to enable any individual to gain access to his record or to any information pertaining to him.' The Act specifically requires agencies to produce medical records."

In addressing the BOP regulation used to justify the withholding of certain medical records, the court ruled that the administrative regulation violated the statutory law. The Privacy Act, the court continued, "permits agencies to devise 'special procedures' for disclosure of medical records, but the purpose of such procedures must be to protect the individual's privacy from intrusion by others, not to withhold records from the person who is himself the subject of the records."

The court then took the unusual step of granting summary judgment in favor of the prisoner, even though he had not filed for or requested such relief. See, Benavides v. Bureau of Prisons, 427 F.Supp. 426 (D.C., D.C., 1991).

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Related legal case

Benavides v. Bureau of Prisons


Civil Action No. 90-1293 SS


1991 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3838

March 22, 1991, Decided

March 26, 1991, Filed


Withdrawn from the Bound Volume by Order of the Court.


Originally Published at: 771 F. Supp 426 and Withdrawn from the Bound Volume.


Stanley Sporkin, United States District Judge.





Plaintiff Eduardo Benavides, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, seeks release under the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a, of medical records compiled by the defendant Bureau of Prisons (BOP) during Mr. Benavides' incarceration in the Federal Correctional Institute at Bastrop, Texas (FCI Bastrop). The BOP has moved for summary judgment on the ground that it has fully complied with Mr. Benavides' FOIA request.

The Privacy Act directs agencies to "establish procedures for the disclosure to art individual upon his request of his record or information pertaining to him, including special procedure, if deemed necessary, for the disclosure to an individual of medical records, including psychological records, pertaining to him." 5 U.S.C. 552a(f)(3). Pursuant to this provision, the Department of Justice, of which the BOP is a component agency, has promulgated the following regulation:

When an individual requests medical records pertaining to himself . . . the component agency may advise the individual that the records will be provided only to a physician, designated by the individual, who requests [*2] the records and establishes his identity in writing. The designated physician shall determine which records should be provided to the individual and which records should not be disclosed to the individual because of possible harm to the individual or another person.

28 C.F.R. § 16.43. The policy of the BOP, in other words, is that due to the inherent sensitivity of medical records, an individual's treating physician should have the responsibility of determining to which records an individual may have access.

In this case, the BOP responded to Mr. Benavides' request for medical records by releasing to Mr. Benavides 56 pages of his medical file. The BOP withheld the remaining 66 pages of the files, which contain the evaluations and opinions of the physicians who treated Mr. Benavides at the FCI Bastrop, pursuant to its policy of requiring a physician's request. The BOP informed Mr. Benavides of this policy.

Mr. Benavides then provided to the BOP an authorization form designating Dr. Gualberto Marrero as his personal physician and consenting to the release of his records to Dr. Marrero, along with a request from Dr. Marrero for the records. The BOP released Mr. Benavides' entire medical [*3] file to Dr. Marrero on December 22, 1989. According to the plaintiff's opposition to the BOP's motion for summary judgment, Dr. Marrero has not disclosed to Mr. Benavides the entire contents of the file.

By providing the records to Dr. Marrero, Mr. Benavides' designated agent, the BOP has discharged its responsibility under the Privacy Act.

Accordingly, upon consideration of defendant's motion for summary judgment, plaintiff's opposition thereto, and the entire record in this case, it is this 22nd day of March 1991 hereby

ORDERED that defendant's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED; and it is further

ORDERED that judgment shall be entered for the defendant.