FREEDOM OF INFORMATION OFFICER, STATE OF CONNECTICUT DEPARTMENT OF MENTAL HEALTH AND ADDICTION SERVICES et al. v. FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION et al., SC 19371

Judicial District of New Britain

 

      Freedom of Information; Whether Infamous Dead Woman’s Medical Records Exempt from Disclosure Under Invasion of Personal Privacy Exception of General Statutes § 1-210 (b) (2); Whether All Medical Records Generated in Mental Health Facility Subject to Psychiatrist-Patient Privilege of General Statutes § 52-146e.  Ron Robillard filed a complaint with the Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC), alleging that the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (department) violated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by denying his request for the psychiatric and medical records of Amy Archer Gilligan.  Gilligan was confined at a state mental institution from 1924 until her death in 1962 following her conviction of second degree murder for the arsenic poisoning of a resident of her nursing home.  She was the inspiration for the play and movie “Arsenic and Old Lace.”  The FOIC concluded that Gilligan's psychiatric records were confidential under General Statutes § 52-146e, which prohibits the disclosure of all "communications and records" relating to the diagnosis or treatment of a patient's mental condition unless consent is obtained.  As for the medical records, which included physical and dental examination records, the FOIC found that they were not exempt from disclosure under General Statutes § 1-210 (b) (2), which prohibits disclosure of medical records where disclosure would constitute an “invasion of personal privacy.”  The FOIC found that Gilligan’s privacy rights terminated on her death and that, because Gilligan was an infamous arsenic murderess, her medical records pertained to legitimate matters of public concern such that their disclosure would not be highly offensive to a reasonable person.  The department appealed to the trial court, which rejected its claim that the psychiatrist-patient privilege of § 52-146e applies to any record generated at a mental health facility, including Gilligan’s medical records.  The court agreed, however, with the department’s claim that most of Gilligan’s medical records were exempt from disclosure under § 1-210 (b) (2), concluding that the department met its burden of establishing that those records are not a legitimate matter of public concern and that they would be highly offensive if disclosed.   The FOIC appeals, claiming the trial court improperly substituted its judgment for the FOIC’s in determining that the disclosure of Gilligan’s medical records would constitute a § 1-210 (b) (2) invasion of personal privacy.  The department cross appeals, claiming that the trial court wrongly rejected its claim that all of the information about Gilligan in the mental institution’s files was privileged under § 52-146e because it was used in furtherance of the diagnosis and treatment of her mental condition.  The department also claims that the trial court erred to the extent that it ordered that some of Gilligan’s medical records be disclosed.  It claims that all her medical records are exempt from disclosure under § 1-210 (b) (2) because the public does not have a legitimate interest in such private and personal information and that the fact that the public is curious about Gilligan does not make her records a matter of public concern.