This template is for journalists seeking to compel a public agency to turn over records requested under Connecticut’s FOIA.1 The template provides a general outline for complaints filed in one of Connecticut’s Superior Courts, with areas for editing in brackets. Filing a complaint with the court is the last step of the process for seeking documents under FOIA. A journalist seeking documents must take the following steps:
1. Request documents from the public agency.
In Connecticut, every person has the right to inspect records maintained by a public agency during regular office hours,2 to copy records using a hand-held scanner,3 and to receive copies of records from the agency.4 The agency may charge a fee for allowing its records to be scanned5 or for providing copies.6 However, the agency is required to waive the fee in certain circumstances, including when, in the agency’s judgment, compliance with the records request “benefits the general welfare.”7 Journalists making Connecticut FOIA requests may therefore be able to avoid paying scanning or copying fees if they demonstrate that they are seeking records for a story that will benefit the general welfare.
There is no universal form for requesting public records in Connecticut, although some agencies have created FOIA request forms for their own use. Before making a records request to an agency, it is advisable to check the agency’s website to determine if it requires the use of a particular request form.
If the agency denies a request for inspection or copies of public records, the agency official who has custody or control of the records must issue a denial, in writing, to the requester within four business days of the request.8 Failure to comply with a request to inspect or copy public records within the applicable number of business days is deemed to be a denial.9
2. Pursue an Administrative Appeal to the Freedom of Information Commission.
Any person denied access to a record by a public agency may appeal to the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission by filing a notice of appeal within 30 days of the denial.10 The appeal may be made in a letter that contains all relevant facts pertaining to the denial of access. The letter may be mailed, faxed or emailed to the Freedom of Information Commission, 18-20 Trinity Street, Hartford, CT 06106 (email: firstname.lastname@example.org; fax: 1-860-566-6474).
The Commission must hear and decide the appeal within one year after the filing of the appeal.11 The Commission may confirm the action of the public agency or order the agency to provide relief that the Commission, in its discretion, believes appropriate to rectify the denial of access to the public records, including requiring the production or copying of any public record, as well as a civil penalty of $25 to $1,000 for unreasonable denials.12
3. File a Section 4-183 appeal with one of the state Superior Courts.13
If the Commission denies the FOIA request, the requester may appeal the Commission’s decision to the Superior Court in accordance with Conn. Gen. Stat. § 4-183. The requester must serve a copy of the appeal to the Commission and the relevant public agency(s) within 45 days of receiving the Commission’s final decision, and file the appeal with the Superior Court in accordance with Conn. Gen. Stat. § 4-183. Please note that Connecticut is a serve-first state, meaning the you serve your commencement documents first and then you commence the action electronically. With respect to the applicable court for filing the appeal, the requester may file the appeal with the clerk of the Superior Court for either the judicial district of New Britain or for the judicial district where he or she resides or, if that person is not a resident of Connecticut, with the clerk of the court for the judicial district of New Britain.14
1 The public agencies subject to Connecticut’s FOIA requirements are defined in Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-200(1). The types of records that are accessible to the public, and the records and information that are exempt from disclosure to the public, are defined in Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 1-200(5), 1-210 & 1-213 – 1-219.
2 Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-210(a).
3 Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 1-210(a) & 1-212(g).
4 Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 1-210(a) & 1-212(a).
5 Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-212(g).
6 Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-212(a, b, c, e, f).
7 Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-212(c).
8 Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-206(a). The agency has additional time (ten business days) to issue the written denial in cases subject to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-214(b) and (c), which relates to requests for the personnel, medical or similar files of agency employees. Id.
10 Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-206(b). Failure to pursue an administrative appeal generally precludes subsequent judicial relief for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.
11 Id. A shorter period is prescribed for certain cases involving records of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-206(e).
12 Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-206(b).
13 Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-206(d).
14 Conn. Gen. § 4-183(c)(1).