September 17, 1996

In re: Ronnie Landrum/Breathitt Funeral Home

Open Records Decision

This appeal originated in an open records request submitted by Ronnie Landrum, an inmate at Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex, to the Breathitt Funeral Home. On July 31, 1996, Mr. Landrum requested a copy of “the autopsy and toxicology reports of James Stamper and Denver Lee Stamper. . . .” No representative of the Breathitt Funeral Home responded to this request.

On July 25, 1996, this office issued 96-ORD-163 to Mr. Landrum and the current Breathitt County Coroner, Gene Watts, in an appeal precipitated by Mr. Watts's denial of Mr. Landrum's request for the same documents. (Copy enclosed.) Mr. Watts explained that neither these records, nor any other records generated by his predecessor, Frank Fletcher, were turned over to him when he took office. We concluded that although Mr. Watts could not provide access to records which were not in his custody, the appeal raised issues of proper records management and retention. Accordingly, we referred the matter to the Department for Libraries and Archives “for additional inquiries as the Department deems appropriate.”

Mr. Landrum then sought to obtain access to these records through the previous coroner, Mr. Fletcher. We have been advised that Mr. Fletcher, who is deceased, operated the Breathitt Funeral Home. It was apparently Mr. Landrum's belief that the records he sought might still be stored at the Breathitt Funeral Home. Having received no response to his open records request, he initiated this appeal.

The question presented in this appeal is whether the Breathitt Funeral Home violated provisions of the Open Records Act in failing to respond to Mr. Landrum's request. For the reasons set forth below, we conclude that because the funeral home is not a public agency, it is not subject to the Open Records Act.

The Kentucky Open Records Act applies only to “public agencies” as defined in KRS 61.870(1)(a) through (k). A private funeral home, although at one time operated by the county coroner, does not fall within the parameters of this definition. Nor are records of the funeral home “public records” within the meaning of KRS 61.870(2). Thus, the Breathitt Funeral Home is not obligated to comply with the provisions of the Open Records Act.

As we observed in our earlier decision to Mr. Landrum, this is not, in general, the result that the Open Records Act envisions. KRS 61.8715 recognizes an “essential relationship” between the intent of the Act and statutes relating to proper records management and retention. It is “[o]nly through effective and efficient records management [that] the public [can] be afforded full access to public records.” In view of the importance of these issues, we have forwarded a copy of this decision, along with our earlier decision relative to this matter, to the Department for Libraries and Archives, in order to keep the Department apprised of developments in Mr. Landrum's appeal.

A party aggrieved by this decision may appeal it by initiating action in the appropriate circuit court pursuant to KRS 61.880(5) and KRS 61.882. Pursuant to KRS 61.880(3), the Attorney General should be notified of any action in circuit court, but should not be named as a party in that action or in any subsequent proceeding.

A. B. Chandler III

Attorney General

Amye L. Bensenhaver

Assistant Attorney General


Distributed to:

Ronnie Landrum #111763 1-CU-12

Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex

P. O. Box 636

West Liberty KY 41472

Official Custodian of Records

Breathitt Funeral Home

Hwy. 15 South

Jackson KY 41339

Gene Watts

Breathitt County Coroner

Watts Funeral Home

P. O. Box 945

Jackson KY 41339

Richard Belding, Director

Public Records Division

Department for Libraries and Archives

300 Coffee Tree Road

P. O. Box 537

Frankfort KY 40602-0537