April 17, 1997





In re: Mae Jean Joseph/Cabinet for Families and Children



Open Records Decision



This matter comes to the Attorney General on appeal from the denial by the Department for Social Services, Cabinet for Families and Children, of the open records request of Ms. Mae Jean Joseph for copies of the adoption records of her mother, Lucille McGill.


Ms. Dolores Delahanty, Management Team, Department for Social Service, denied Ms. Joseph’s request. The denial was based upon KRS 61.878(1)(l) and KRS 199.570 (which prohibits the disclosure of adoption records, except upon order of the court which entered the judgment of adoption).


On behalf of Ms. Joseph, Rick Holland, Esq., appealed the Department’s denial of her request to this office. In his letter of appeal, Mr. Holland, in relevant part, stated:


My objection to the decision of the Cabinet’s management team is based on the fact that all parties with confidential interests in the records requested have been dead nearly half a century. It seems unduly burdensome to the courts of Kentucky and my client to require her to incur legal expenses to obtain a court order permitting review of the requested records. It is unreasonable and illogical to secret the truth to protect people whom we are free to slander.


We are asked to determine whether the Department’s denial was consistent with the Open Records Act. For the reasons which follow, we conclude that it was.


KRS 61.878(1)(l) excludes from the application of the Open Records Act:


Public records or information the disclosure of which is prohibited or restricted or otherwise made confidential by enactment of the General Assembly.


This exception to the Open Records Act incorporates KRS 199.570, relating to the confidentiality of adoption records. KRS 199.570(1) provides in part:


No person having charge of any adoption records shall disclose the names of any parties appearing in such records, except upon order of the court which entered the judgment of adoption. The clerk of the circuit court shall set up a separate docket and order book for adoption cases and these files and records shall be kept locked.


This Office has previously held that adoption records and records of adoption proceedings are confidential. 93-ORD-84; OAG 87-71. During adoption proceedings certain persons may inspect the records without court order. KRS 199.570(1). Among these persons are the parties to the proceedings and their attorneys. However, upon entry of the final order in the case the records are sealed, and no person may inspect them without a written order of the court. The statute is clear on its face.


KRS 199.570 prohibits persons having charge of adoption records from divulging information contained in those records. Violation of this provision is punishable by a fine of $500 to $2,000, imprisonment for up to six months, or both. KRS 199.990(2). In OAG 87-71, we recognized that this prohibition extends to the Department for Social Services and its representatives. It is the opinion of this Office that the Department is absolutely foreclosed from releasing adoption records to an adoptive parent, a relative, or any other person, in the absence of a court order. 93-ORD-84. We therefore conclude that the Department properly denied Ms. Joseph’s request under authority KRS 61.878(1)(l) and KRS 199.570.


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




James M. Ringo

Assistant Attorney General




Distributed to:


Rick Holland

Suite 316

2100 Gardiner Lane

Louisville KY 40205


Dolores Delahanty

Dept. for Social Services

Cabinet for Families & Children

275 East Main Street

Frankfort KY 40601