by Derek Gilna
New Mexico District Court Judge Raymond Z. Ortiz ruled in August 2016 that Corizon Health, a for-profit medical services provider, must release its settlement agreements in lawsuits filed against the company by New Mexico prisoners.
Until last year, Corizon provided medical care at 10 state correctional facilities. In May 2016 the New Mexico Corrections Department declined to renew its contract with the company, instead opting to contract with Centurion to provide healthcare services to approximately 7,000 state prisoners.
The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (FOG), joined by two newspapers, filed a Writ of Mandamus against Corizon after the company refused to release its settlements in lawsuits filed by prisoners, citing confidentiality clauses in the settlement agreements. However, Judge Ortiz held that Corizon’s $37.5 million annual contract with New Mexico officials made the company subject to the state’s public records law. “The documents are public records and Corizon cannot contract away its duty to the public to disclose,” he said.
FOG submitted its request to Corizon on May 6, 2016 under the Inspection of Public Records Act, for “Any and all settlement documents involving Corizon Health, Inc. in its role as contractor for the New Mexico Corrections Department whether or not the State of New Mexico is a party to the settlement.”
The company objected, stating in its response that some of the requested records were “the result of settlement of allegations concerning sexual assault. They are therefore, highly sensitive by their nature.... Disclosing these documents would put the Releasors at risk of ... embarrassment and humiliation of reprisal and further victimization.”
Judge Ortiz’s order required release of the settlements based upon the public’s interest in the records, the amount of public funding Corizon received and the fact that the company was performing a function normally provided by a state agency, though he also ordered the redaction of certain prisoners’ names to protect their privacy.
According to FOG executive director Susan Boe, “The ruling was a victory for open government. The public has a strong interest in the adequacy of medical care provided to the state’s prisoners. The fact the care was provided by a third party under contract to the state does not change the analysis.”
In March 2017, Judge Ortiz further ordered Corizon to pay $37,535 in attorney fees to FOG, the Santa Fe New Mexican and the Albuquerque Journal. The company has since appealed the fee award and court order requiring it to disclose its settlements, and its appeal remains pending. See: New Mexico Foundation for Open Government v. Corizon Health, First Judicial District Court, County of Santa Fe (NM), Case No. D-101-CV-2016-01742.
Corizon has also been sued in New Mexico by Prison Legal News, which filed a separate public records request for documents related to prisoner litigation that was denied by the company. That case is ongoing.
Additional sources: www.nmnn.net, www.nmfog.org, www.elpasotimes.com
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Related legal case
New Mexico Foundation for Open Government v. Corizon Health
|First Judicial District Court, County of Santa Fe (NM), Case No. D-101-CV-2016-01742