In a unique case of first impression the Freedom of Information Commission (“FOIC”) has ruled that a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) complaint survives the death of the complainant. Lee Smith had filed a FOIA complaint against the Middletown Public Schools, alleging that the Board and the Superintendent had failed to provide a bullying investigation report. During the pendency of his complaint, Mr. Smith died and the respondent moved to dismiss the complaint.
Mr. Smith’s wife and executrix objected to the motion to dismiss. The FOIC rejected the respondent’s argument that Smith’s claim could not survive his death, as the FOIA claim did not add monetary value to his estate. The FOIC noted that the executor had stepped forward to pursue the appeal and that the original complaint, even though it was only in the name of Mr. Smith, had referenced the efforts of both him and his wife to obtain the requested records.
Interestingly, despite the FOIC ruling that Smith’s claim survived his death, it rejected his appeal and found the requested bullying report to be exempt from disclosure pursuant to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Specifically, the FOIC noted that the complainant knew the identities of the other students discussed in the report and that there was no meaningful way for the district to redact the report so as to protect the confidentiality of the other students.