New Mexico: Third-Party Settlement Agreements Resulting from Medical Care Provided by Corizon are Public Documents Subject to Disclosure
by Douglas Ankney
The New Mexico Court of Appeals held that third-party settlement agreements, resulting from medical care provided by Corizon Health under a contract with the state, are public documents subject to disclosure under the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA).
In 2016, the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, the Albuquerque Journal and the Santa Fe New Mexican (petitioners) separately submitted IPRA requests to Corizon, asking to inspect and copy all settlement documents involving the company in its role as the medical provider for the state’s prison system.
Corizon sent the petitioners a table listing the monetary amounts of each settlement and the correctional facility involved, but refused to produce any of the settlement agreements. The petitioners then filed a petition for writ of mandamus, seeking to compel Corizon to provide the agreements. The district court granted the petition and Corizon appealed, arguing, among other things, that the records were exempt from the IPRA. [See: PLN, June 2017, p.58].
The Court of Appeals wrote that the “IPRA declares it ‘to be the policy of this state that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of public officers and employees,’” citing NMSA § 14-2-5.
State law defines public records as “all documents, papers, letters, books, maps, tapes, photographs, recordings and other materials, regardless of physical form or 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.”
The fact that Corizon is a private corporation was not material, because “[a]llowing private entities who contract with a public entity ‘to circumvent a citizen’s right of access to records by contracting’ with a public entity to provide a public function ‘would thwart the very purpose of the IPRA and mark a significant departure from New Mexico’s presumption at the heart of our access law.’” Additionally, case law held that settlements resulting from civil lawsuits filed by prisoners were public records subject to the IPRA.
Having concluded there was no distinction between Corizon and a public entity with respect to the petitioners’ public records request, the Court of Appeals determined the settlement agreements were public records and Corizon had a duty to produce them.
Accordingly, in a September 16, 2019 ruling, the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s order granting the petition for writ of mandamus. See: New Mexico Foundation for Open Government v. Corizon Health, Case No. A-1-CA-35951 (NM Ct. App. 2019); 2019 N.M. App. LEXIS 114.
The Human Rights Defense Center, PLN’s parent non-profit organization, filed a similar IPRA suit against Corizon in New Mexico, in 2016. That case still remains pending.
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Related legal case
New Mexico Foundation for Open Government v. Corizon Health
|Cite||First Judicial District Court, County of Santa Fe (NM), Case No. D-101-CV-2016-01742|