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Connecticut Supreme Court: "Arsenic & Old Lace" Records Exempt from Disclosure

The Connecticut Supreme Court held that state agencies had standing to appeal a trial court's public record disclosure decision and the documents at issue were exempt from disclosure.

Amy Archer Gilligan was convicted of second degree murder for the arsenic poisoning of a resident of her nursing home. Her life is widely considered to be the inspiration for the play and movie entitled "Arsenic and Old Lace." Following her conviction, Gilligan was confined at the Connecticut Valley Hospital. She died in 1962 and has no living heirs.

Ron Robillard requested that the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and Freedom of Information Officer (Plaintiffs) disclose any records related to Gilligan for the period of 1924 to 1962.

Plaintiffs disclosed the records that they deemed disclosable under the Freedom of Information Act, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-200, et seq (Act). Other records were withheld as exempt from disclosure.

Robillard filed a complaint with Connecticut's Freedom of Information Commission, alleging that Plaintiffs violated the Act by refusing to disclose the withheld documents.

Following an in camera inspection of the records, the commission found that some of the records were exempt from disclosure as psychiatric records under Conn. Gen, Stat. § 52-146e. It also found that two documents were exempt from disclosure under the medical and dental record privacy provision of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-210(b)(2). The commission found that all other records submitted for in camera inspection were not exempt from disclosure.

Plaintiffs appealed the decision to the trial court, arguing that the commission misapplied the Act in several respects. The trial court affirmed and the parties appealed to the Appellate Court but those appeals were transferred to the Connecticut Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court first held that Plaintiffs did not lack standing to appeal the Commission's decision to the trial court. Turning to the merits, the Court agreed with Plaintiffs "that the commission and the trial court improperly divided the records at issue between documents that were related to psychiatric care and those that were medical records."

After interpreting the statute, the court concluded "that the trial court improperly affirmed the commission's determination that Gilligan's medical and dental records were not exempt from disclosure under § 52-146e." See: Freedom of Information Officer v. Freedom of Information Commission, Conn A2d (Conn. 2015).

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Related legal case

Freedom of Information Officer v. Freedom of Information Commission