Hawkins v. N.H. Dept. of Health and Human Svcs., Doc. No. 218-1999-E-082 (Rockingham Super. Ct., December 8, 1999) (Coffey, J.)

Pages: 1 2 3




Cassandra Hawkins


New Hampshire Department
of Health and Human Services



The plaintiff brought this Right-to-Know Petition to request information from the defendant concerning payments for dental expenses during the years from 1993 until 1998 made to Medicaid recipients in New Hampshire under age 21. Before the Court are the plaintiff's Motion to Compel and the defendant's Motion to Dismiss. The Court conducted a hearing on the Motion to Compel on November 15, 1999.

The defendant correctly notes that personal information related to individual Medicaid recipients is confidential and would not be discoverable. See RSA 91-A:5, IV (exempting records pertaining to "medical, welfare, ... and other files whose disclosure would constitute invasion of privacy"). The plaintiff, however, is correct that the presence of some confidential information does not necessarily render void a Right-to-Know request. The removal of confidential information, such as patient names, does not create a "new record" not already in the government's possession. See Family Life League v. Department of Public Aid, 493 N.E.2d 1054, 1058-59 (Ill. 1986) (purpose of Right-to-Know law "would be totally thwarted if an entire record could be kept closed simply by inserting some minute [2] confidential information, particularly when the confidential information can be deleted as in the case at bar"). Generally, records containing discrete pieces of confidential information may be redacted to remove that information, without creating a "new record," and the remaining document may be released.

Although the records sought in Family Life League already existed as coherent documents but required the redaction of confidential information at minimal expense, some requests for computer records seek information that is not already collected into specific documents. Compare Brent v. Paquette, 132 N.H. 415 (1989) with Menge v. Manchester, 113 N.H. 533 (1973). In Menge, the Court ordered the release of a computer tape that assembled information from 35,000 "field record cards," comparing "the ease and minimal cost of the tape reproduction as compared to the expense and labor involved in abstracting the information from field cards" and where the plaintiff agreed to cover the cost of reproducing the tape. 113 N.H. at 533, 538. In Brent, on the other hand, the Court refused a request for computer information that had not already been compiled into a single record, holding that RSA 91-A:4 "does not require public officials to retrieve and compile into a list random information gathered from numerous documents, if a list of this information does not already exist." 132 N.H. at 425.

The present request falls into this latter category. The plaintiff here does not simply seek a copy of a particular government document, but rather asks the Court to order the defendant to create a new document to meet her request. The cost of creating an entirely new data manipulation program, assembling the diverse pieces of data, and encrypting or [3] removing any confidential information would exceed $10,000, by the defendant's estimate. As a matter of law, RSA Chapter 91-A did not intend such a result.

The plaintiff's Motion to Compel Production is GRANTED with respect to the "canned" reports already prepared by the defendant. The defendant shall have a reasonable time to redact any confidential information such as patients' names. As for the plaintiff's request for the creation of entirely new reports, however, for the above-stated reasons, the defendants' Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED.

So Ordered.

   12.8.99       /s/   


Presiding Justice