AELE LAW LIBRARY OF CASE SUMMARIES:
Corrections Law for Jails, Prisons and Detention Facilities
Freedom of Information
A California county refused in part to
agree to release information pursuant to an ACLU public records request for invoices specifying the amounts that the county had been billed by
law firms in several different lawsuits claiming excessive force against jail
inmates. It withheld invoices in pending cases on the basis of attorney-client
privilege. The California Supreme Court ruled that while attorney-client
privilege doesn’t categorically shield all attorney billing invoices from
public records disclosure, invoices in active and pending legal matters are
confidential under the privilege. Disclosure of such invoices could reveal
legal strategy. Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors v. Superior Court of
Los Angeles County, #5S226645, 2016 Cal.
A former federal prisoner sued the Bureau of Prisons under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552, seeking certain records. A federal appeals court held that the plaintiff was not required to plead in his complaint that he had exhausted available administrative remedies before filing suit. While such exhaustion is required, failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense that must be raised by the defendant, not a pleading requirement. Moon v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, #15-3751, 2016 U.S. App. Lexis 7674 (8th Cir.).
The ACLU sued the director of the Missouri Department of Corrections, claiming that a state statute prohibiting the disclosure of the identity of persons who participated in executions was unconstitutional. It arguably chilled the free speech of the ACLU as to the dissemination of information contained in documents they obtained under a state statute. The director was immune from liability, however, as he did not have the power to enforce the statute barring the disclosure, only private litigants who filed lawsuits for damages for wrongful disclosure could take action to enforce it. Balogh v. Lombardi, 14-3603, 2016 U.S. App. Lexis 4533 (5th Cir.).
An Arkansas prisoner claimed that a state freedom of information law violated due process and equal protection by only allowing incarcerated felons such as himself to request public records through an attorney. Based on that restriction, a police department employee denied his request for information concerning a person he had assaulted. A federal appeals court rejected the equal protection claim, finding the restriction rationally related to conserving government resources and to preventing the unlawful use of the information to harass or threaten a witness or victim, both legitimate governmental purposes. The due process claim was rejected since the prisoner had not shown that he would suffer any actual injury as a result of the denial of the request. Holt v. Howard, #14-3064, 806 F.3d 1129 (8th Cir. 2015).
In a case concerning compliance reports about improving conditions in two correctional facilities under a settlement agreement between the U.S. government and a New York County, the reports were sealed from public disclosure. The New York ACLU intervened in the case, seeking to have the reports unsealed. A federal appeals court ruled that a fundamental right of the public under the First Amendment to have access to judicial documents was wrongly denied by the sealing of the reports, which were ordered unsealed. United States v. Erie County, #13-3653, 763 F.3d 235 (2nd Cir. 2014).
Two Pennsylvania newspapers sued seeking expanded access to prisoner executions. They asserted that various restrictions on access imposed by correctional officials violated the First Amendment right to report on matters of public interest. A settlement was reached allowing witnesses, such as reporters, to see and hear inside the execution chamber from the moment the prisoner enters until the time he or she is declared dead. The settlement serves the right of officials to turn off the sound system if the inmate attempts to make malicious or threatening remarks aimed at the witnesses. The Philadelphia Inquirer v. Wetzel, #12-cv-01817, U.S. Dist Ct. (M.D. Pa. Oct. 18, 2013).
An intermediate California appeals court found that a trial court erred in ordering a prison warden to either disclose unredacted copies of information in a prisoner's file or else not rely on the information in opposing the prisoner's habeas corpus petition. The information involved was conditionally privileged and came from other prisoners who served as confidential informants. The disclosure of their identities would necessarily endanger their lives. Ochoa v. Superior Court, #H036970, 2011 Cal. App. Lexis 1290 (Cal. App.).
A Florida appeals court held that recordings of inmates' phone calls from jail to their family members and other third parties were not public records subject to disclosure to the media. While monitoring of the calls for security purposes was related to official business of the sheriff's office, maintaining recordings of purely personal conversations was not. Bent v. State of Florida, 46 So. 3d 1047 (Fla. App. 4th Dist. 2011).
A newspaper reporting on prisoner legal controversies sought the disclosure, under the federal Freedom of Information Act, of a video showing the aftermath of a prison murder and autopsy photos of the victim, among other materials. A federal appeals court upheld the withholding of some of the material sought, as the video and photos, if disclosed, would amount to an unjustified invasion of the privacy of the murder victim's family. Prison Legal News v. Exec. Offc. for U.S. Attys., #09-1511, 2011 U.S. App. Lexis 499 (10th Cir.).
A news organization submitted a Freedom of Information Act request seeking information concerning alleged detainee abuse at the Guantanamo Navy Base in Cuba by military personnel or fellow detainees. A federal appeals court ruled that a privacy exemption to the Act barred the disclosure of the detainees' names and other identifying information, as well as the disclosure of the names and addresses of their family members. Associated Press v. U.S. Dept. of Defense, Docket No. 06-5352-cv, 2009 U.S. App. Lexis 18 (2nd Cir.).
Federal appeals court rejects prisoner's claim that excluding prisoners from using the Virginia Freedom of Information Act to request public records violated equal protection and due process of law as protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. The plaintiff failed to show that the classification excluding prisoners from the application of the statute was not rationally related to a legitimate state interest. Nothing more needed to be shown by the defendants, since the classification applied did not violate a fundamental right and was not based on a suspect classification, such as race. Additionally, there was no showing that the denial of the plaintiff's freedom of information requested obstructed him from filing a lawsuit, so there was no viable claim for denial of his First Amendment right of access to the courts. Giarratano v. Johnson, No. 06-7890, 2008 U.S. App. Lexis 6144 (4th Cir.).
While the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) produced a two-page incident report requested by the prisoner under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. Sec. 552, it refused to either deny or confirm the existence of disciplinary records regarding a former prison staff member, contending that they were excluded from disclosure because of an exemption in the statute for the disclosure of records compiled for law enforcement purposes. The court ordered further proceedings however, as a declaration concerning such records did not demonstrate the circumstances under which they may have been compiled. Coleman v. Lappin, No. 06-2255, 2008 U.S. Dist. Lexis 15421 (D.D.C.).
A prisoner filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. Sec. 552 for the release of all documents concerning a psychological examination of him by a Bureau of Prisons (BOP) staff psychologist. The court ruled that certain test materials, including the test protocol and extended score report were not subject to disclosure, based on the test publisher's objection that their disclosure would compromise the validity of the test and reveal trade secrets. The handwritten notes of the psychologist and other documents, such as a summary report, however, were subject to disclosure. Ruston v. Dept. of Justice, Civil Action No.: 06-0224, 2007 U.S. Dist. Lexis 83009 (D.D.C.).
Despite a prisoner's claim that more than 500 documents he had previously supplied to the Bureau of Prisons were omitted from the documents released in response to his Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. Sec. 552, request, a federal trial court ruled that the Bureau, which had then released an additional 123 pages of records, and found no additional responsive materials, satisfied the court that it had conducted a reasonable search for the purpose of finding all available records. The Defendant agency was therefore entitled to summary judgment in the prisoner's lawsuit. Toolasprashad v. Bureau of Prisons, Civil Action No. 06-1187, 2007 U.S. Dist. Lexis 6542 (D.D.C.). [N/R]
Trial court improperly granted summary judgment for the Bureau of Prisons in a prisoner's lawsuit alleging that it violated his rights under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. Sec. 552(a)(3)(B) by providing him with requested BOP documents in paper form rather than in an electronic format because of prison rules against inmate access to or possession of electronic media. A federal appeals court noted that the statute itself, as amended, requires federal agencies to provide, so far as possible, material in the format requested. At the same time, the issue of whether the BOP could apply its policy barring inmate access to electronic media to materials provided under the FOIA was found to be not properly before the court, leaving that issue to future proceedings. Sample v. Bureau of Prisons, No. 05-5038, 2006 U.S. App. Lexis 27242 (D.C. Cir.). [N/R]
Prisoner's lawsuit asserting claims under the Freedom of Information Act, the Privacy Act, and the Fifth Amendment's due process clause over Bureau of Prisons records concerning him was properly dismissed. The prisoner objected to the Bureau maintaining, in his files, three pre-sentence reports prepared by the U.S. Probation Office, which he claimed were used to his detriment in making prisoner security and programmatic decisions and in determining his eligibility for parole. The BOP, under 28 C.F.R. Sec. 16.97(j) exempted its inmate Central Record System from the accuracy provisions of the Privacy Act, and the Bureau also provided a reasonable explanation for its refusal to make the corrections that the prisoner requested, on the basis that information showed that the information was accurate. Martinez v. Bureau of Prisons, No. 04-5343, 444 F.3d 620 (D.C. Cir. 2006). [N/R]
Prison records requested by inmate under New York Freedom of Information Law, relating to an investigation of his claim that a correctional officer sexually assaulted him, were not subject to disclosure based on an exemption in the law for information that could endanger a person's life or safety, based on court's review of the documents at issue. John H. v. Goord, 809 N.Y.S.2d 682 (A.D. 3rd Dept. 2006). [N/R]
Wisconsin prisoner was not entitled under state law to access to some records he had requested from a prison concerning a disciplinary incident in which he had been involved, and which had previously become the subject of litigation against the state Department of Corrections (DOC). Correctional officials had properly determined that turning over the withheld records could endanger other prisoners or prison staff and could compromise the inmate's rehabilitation. Portions of the withheld records constituted, or reference gang related literature, the officials stated, which was contraband which a prisoner may not possess. State v. Stahowiak, No. 2004AP1755, 706 N.W.2d 161 (Wis. App. 2005). [N/R]
Under Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. Sec. 552, federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) records concerning an investigation into a prisoner's contacts with security agencies while falsely claiming to be a prison staff member were exempt from disclosure, as was information regarding sexual assaults at the prison, but no exemptions applied to a list of staff names and titles for all staff at the prison, or to information about housing units in which prisoners were housed. Maydak v. U.S. Dept. of Justice, No. CIV.A. 00-0562, 362 F. Supp. 2d 316 (D.D.C. 2005). [N/R]
Pennsylvania Department of Corrections incident report, prepared after two inmates became ill and required medical attention, was not a public record required to be disclosed under the state's "Right-to-Know" law. Court also rules that chemical disbursement sheets recording the weekly and monthly disbursement of chemicals at the prison in connection with the making of rubber in a rubbermill room were not related to fiscal governance and were therefore also not subject to disclosure to prisoner requesting access to them. Heffran v. Department of Corrections, 878 A.2d 985 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005). [N/R]
Investigations by the Washington state Department of Corrections into alleged medical misconduct by prison medical staff were not carried out for purposes of "law enforcement" and therefore were not exempt from disclosure to the press and public as law enforcement investigative records under the state's public disclosure act. Prison Legal News, Inc. v. Department of Corrections, No. 74890-0, 115 P.3d 316 (Wash. 2005). [N/R]
Employee accident reports, employee interviews, and employee training records were not exempt from disclosure under New York law to prisoner seeking information concerning an incident in which he was allegedly injured by correctional officers, so long as personal data about individual officers was excluded. Disclosure of employee staffing records, however, were exempt, as their disclosure could endanger officers' lives and safety by revealing where they were posted within the correctional facility. Beyah v. Goord, 766 N.Y.S.2d 222 (A.D. Dept. 3 2003). [2004 JB Apr]
Federal Bureau of Prisons properly showed justification for the withholding from disclosure under a freedom of information request of its internal personnel rules and practices, but not for withholding staff manuals, and also failed to show that it had conducted an adequate search for the records which the plaintiff had requested. Maydak v. U.S. Department of Justice, 254 F. Supp. 2d 23 (D.D.C. 2003). [N/R]
Inmate who succeeded in his claim that he was improperly denied access to certain public records by a state official was entitled to an award of postage, envelope, and copying costs as "reasonable costs of enforcement" under Florida statute, F.S.A. Sec. 119.12, when the prisoner acted as his own attorney, even if such costs would not be recoverable if he was represented by a lawyer, since these would be "normal office overhead expenses" for an attorney. Weeks v. Golden, 846 So. 2d 1247 (Fla. App. 1st Dist. 2003). [N/R]
Sheriff's department failed to show that information related to excessive force complaints concerning alleged excessive use of force against prisoners were exempt from release under Texas Public Information Act, T.C.A. Government Code Sec. 552.006 on the basis of either a litigation or a law enforcement exemption. Trial court erred, however, in limiting the amount of reimbursement that the sheriff could charge a newspaper for the cost of copying the requested information. Thomas v. Corny, No. 03-01-00099-CV, 71 S.W.3d 473 (Tex. App. --Austin, 2002). [N/R]
284:119 Illinois prison employees did not violate prisoners' rights when they inspected their incoming mail and seized as contraband copies of travel vouchers submitted by members of the state's Prisoner Review Board obtained by prisoners' relatives under the state's Freedom of Information Act; prisoner access to these vouchers presented
a possible threat to the safety and security of Review Board members. Holloway v. Meyer, No. 2-98-1641, 726 N.E.2d 678 (Ill. App. 2000).
269:73 Illinois prisoner was not entitled to access to a copy of Department of Correction's administrative directives; revealing such directives could pose a danger to institutional safety and security. Romero v. O'Sullivan, 707 N.E.2d 986 (Ill. App. 1999).
261:134 New York correctional officials properly denied prisoner access to letter written by his former girlfriend in their possession; exemptions to state Freedom of Information Law for unwarranted invasion of privacy and material which could endanger a person's life or safety barred disclosure. Deane v. Annucci, 669 N.Y.S.2d 696 (A.D. 1998).
223:102 Statements made by confidential prisoner informants, used in prison disciplinary proceeding, were exempt from disclosure under Michigan state Freedom of Information Act. Hyson v. Dept. of Corrections, 521 N.W.2d 841 (Mich. App. 1994).
Release of correctional officers' social security numbers without their express written consent would violate the federal Freedom of Information Act. Seelig v. Sielaff, 603 N.Y.S.2d 305 (A.D. 1993).
U.S. government not entitled to a presumption that all persons supplying information to FBI during a criminal investigation are "confidential sources" exempt from disclosure as part of inmate's request under the Freedom of Information Act. U.S. Dept. of Justice v. Landano, 113 S.Ct. 2014 (1993).
Release of documents to a prisoner under the Freedom of Information Act which allegedly revealed that cellmate was a confidential informant gave cellmate the right to sue government for money damages under the federal Privacy Act. Sterling v. U.S., 798 F.Supp. 47 (D.D.C. 1992).
Michigan Freedom of Information Act does not require disclosure of prison disciplinary hearings, records and decisions. Walen v. Dept. of Corrections, 473 N.W.2d 722 (Mich. App. 1991).
Videotape showing inmate's transfer to special housing unit was exempt from disclosure for safety reasons. Lonski v. Kelly, 540 N.Y.S.2d 114 (A.D. 1989).
Inmate awarded $500 punitive damages for arbitrary refusal to provide copies of prison disciplinary record under state FOIA. Kincaid v. Department of Corrections, 446 N.W.2d 604 (Mich. App. 1989).
Inmate was not entitled to free copy of his 800-page psychiatric treatment record. Kearney v. Department of Mental Health, 425 N.W.2d 161 (Mich. App. 1988).