NOT TO BE PUBLISHED
February 21, 1995
In re: Rita Riherd/Cabinet for Human Resources
OPEN RECORDS DECISION
On behalf of her clients, Ronnie and Genene Caudle, Ms. Rita Riherd challenges the Cabinet for Human Resources' denial of her October 4, 1994, request to inspect all records pertaining to the Caudles' grandchild. Specifically, Ms. Riherd requested access to:
[A]ny and all records, reports and memoranda related to the court ordered monitoring of the home of Jennifer Caudle . . . ; any and all state or local records regarding alleged dependency, abuse or neglect of said child since his birth, any records in the custody of the Cabinet for Human Resources relating to court action in the Franklin County Juvenile Court, and any and all records not specifically designated but involving the health, welfare, progress or best interest of said child.
Ms. Riherd explains that although the Cabinet for Human Resources was ordered by the Calloway County Circuit Court to monitor their grandchild's home environment, the Caudles are concerned that the Cabinet has failed to do so.
On October 10, 1994, Mr. Gregory L. Williamson, Assistant Counsel for the Cabinet, denied Ms. Riherd's request. Relying on KRS 61.878(1)(l), which authorizes the withholding of "public records or information the disclosure of which is prohibited or restricted or otherwise made confidential by enactment of the General Assembly," and KRS 620.050(4), which generally prohibits access to information obtained by the Cabinet in the course of investigating allegations of dependency, abuse, and neglect, Mr. Williamson explained that Ms. Riherd's clients "are not among the parties entitled to these records under this provision." With respect to records relating to juvenile court action, Mr. Williamson invoked KRS 610.340(1), prohibiting the release of "juvenile court records of any nature generated pursuant to KRS Chapters 600 to 645 by any agency or instrumentality, public or private . . . ." Finally, Mr. Williamson asserted that all other records pertaining to the Caudles' grandson are protected from disclosure by KRS 194.060(1), prohibiting disclosure of "all records and reports of the Cabinet which directly or indirectly identify a client or patient or former client or patient of the cabinet for human resources . . . ."
In her letter of appeal to this office, Ms. Riherd argues that "the order requiring CHR to monitor the home of Jennifer Caudle . . . is a public record and for CHR to take such an obstructionist position is clearly unreasonable." Her clients seek reassurance that CHR fulfilled its court imposed duties. She asks that this office find that the Cabinet violated the Open Records Act by denying her request. For the reasons set forth below, we conclude that the Cabinet properly denied Ms. Riherd's request.
We have dealt with the issue raised in this appeal in a number of prior decisions. For example, in OAG 92-53, we held that KRS 620.050(4) requires the Cabinet for Human Resources to withhold from all persons information acquired as a result of an investigation conducted pursuant to KRS 620.050, unless the requesting party can demonstrate that he or she falls within one of the classes of persons or agencies established at KRS 620.050(4)(a) through (f). See also, OAG 92-54; 92-ORD-1502; 94-ORD-134; 95-ORD-5. We believe that this line of decisions is dispositive of the present appeal.
KRS 61.878(1)(l) exempts from mandatory disclosure:
Public records or information the disclosure of which is prohibited or restricted or otherwise made confidential by enactment of the general assembly.
KRS 620.050(4) insures the confidentiality of information gathered by the Cabinet for Human Resources in cases of reported dependency, neglect, and abuse, and establishes certain circumstances under which, and classes of persons to whom, such information may be made available. It provides:
(4) All information obtained by the cabinet or its delegated representative, as a result of an investigation made pursuant to this section, shall not be divulged to anyone except:
(a) Persons suspected of causing dependency, neglect or abuse, provided that in such cases names of informants shall be withheld unless ordered by the court;
(b) The custodial parent or legal guardian of the child alleged to be dependent, neglected or abused;
(c) Persons within the cabinet with a legitimate interest or responsibility related to the case;
(d) Other medical, psychological, educational, or social service agencies, corrections personnel or law enforcement agencies, including the county attorney's office, that have a legitimate interest in the case;
(e) A noncustodial parent when the dependency, neglect or abuse is substantiated; or
(f) Those persons so authorized by court order.
This statute clearly requires the Cabinet for Human Resources and the Department for Social Services to withhold from all persons information acquired as a result of an investigation conducted pursuant to KRS 620.050, unless the requesting party can demonstrate that he or she satisfies the requirements set forth in KRS 620.050(4)(a) through (f). Ms. Riherd has not demonstrated that her clients fall under any of the statutorily recognized classifications or that their particular situation warrants the release of the requested materials.
Pursuant to KRS 61.880(2), we have examined the records which give rise to this appeal, and conclude that they fall squarely within the exclusionary language found at KRS 620.050(4). Because the Caudles do not satisfy the requirements of KRS 620.050(4)(a) through (f), the Cabinet is prohibited from disclosing the disputed records to them. See, e.g., OAG 91-30; 93-ORD-78. Additionally, KRS 194.060(1) supports the nondisclosure of the records pertaining to the Caudles' grandson. As a client of the Cabinet, Jennifer Caudle is entitled to the protection afforded by this statute, as are the records generated by CHR relative to her case. We do not address the applicability of KRS 610.340(1) to the records, although this provision may also prohibit disclosure, since KRS 620.050(4) and KRS 194.060(1) preclude the Cabinet from releasing them to the Caudles.
While there may be occasions when the unequivocal language of KRS 620.050(4) and KRS 194.060(1) work an apparent injustice on a party interested in the welfare of a child, this office has consistently held that the Cabinet and the Department are strictly prohibited from releasing information gathered in an investigation, or which directly or indirectly identifies a client or patient, or former client or patient, except as otherwise directed in the statute. OAG 87-82; OAG 88-4; OAG 91-93. Accordingly, it is our opinion that the Cabinet properly denied Ms. Riherd's request.
It would appear that the Caudles are chiefly concerned that the Cabinet is not adequately monitoring their grandson's home environment. We urge them to contact Mr. Joel Griffith, Child Protective Specialist for the Department for Social Services, at (502) 564-2136, to discuss these concerns.
Ms. Riherd may challenge this decision by initiating action in the appropriate circuit court. Pursuant to KRS 61.880(3), the Attorney General shall be notified of any action in circuit court, but shall not be named as a party in that action or in any subsequent proceedings.
AMYE B. MAJORS
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL
Hon. Gregory L. Williamson
Cabinet for Human Resources
275 East Main Street - 4 West
Frankfort, KY 40632-0001
Hon. Rita E. Riherd
Suite 403 Security Trust Building
271 West Short Street
Lexington, KY 40507