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Abigail Padou v. District of Columbia

October 20, 2011


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CAB4234-09) (Hon. Judith E. Retchin, Trial Judge)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reid, Associate Judge, Retired:

Argued November 19, 2010

Before THOMPSON, Associate Judge, REID,*fn1 Associate Judge, Retired, and PRYOR, Senior Judge.

This case involves Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") requests sent to two District of Columbia agencies by appellant, Abigail Padou.*fn2

Ms. Padou asked for specified information about mental health-related community residential facilities ("MHCRFs") and disability care-related facilities located in the District's Ward 5, including the addresses of those facilities. The District withheld certain information and Ms. Padou filed a complaint in the trial court. Ms. Padou mainly asserts on appeal that the trial court erred by granting summary judgment in favor of the District. For the reasons stated in this opinion, we affirm the trial court's judgment with respect to Ms. Padou's Department of Mental Health ("DMH") FOIA request, but we reverse and remand its judgment regarding Ms. Padou's Department on Disability Services ("DDS") FOIA request for further proceedings.


Ms. Padou's amended complaint, signed on July 20, 2009 and filed in the trial court, shows that on February 10, 2009, she lodged two FOIA requests with District agencies, one with DMH and the other with DDS.*fn3 She sought "information about community-based mental health-related facilities (MHCRFs) [and community-based disability care-related facilities] located in Ward 5," specifically, the number of such facilities, their addresses and contact information, a description of the services provided, and their capacity.*fn4

On March 4, 2009, DMH sent Ms. Padou a one-page statement entitled, "DMH Mental Health Rehabilitative Services Providers in Ward 5." However, DMH stated that it was "withholding the addresses of mental health community residence facilities under the authority of D.C. [] Code § 2-534 (a)(2) because the public disclosure of this information would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of the mental health residents residing at these homes."*fn5

In contrast to DMH's response to Ms. Padou's request, DDS sent a communication to her on March 4, 2009, providing "a partial list of disability-care related facilities located in Ward 5." The partial list, with identifying information that included the address, contact person, and telephone number, covered "'licensed' group homes of four or more individuals and intermediate care facilities for persons with mental retardation ('ICFs/MR')." Later, on May 1, 2009, DDS released an additional list of residential facilities in Ward 5, which reflected "each type of residential placement in Ward 5 (i.e., independent living, supervised apartments, host homes, group homes, CRFs, ICFs/MR, and supervised living arrangements)." However, DDS withheld the street addresses and contact information under the FOIA's personal privacy exemption, D.C. Code § 2-534 (a)(2).

Ms. Padou filed an appeal of DMH's decision in the Mayor's office, in accordance with D.C. Code § 2-537 governing appeals. DMH's April 9, 2009, answer to the appeal asserted, in part, that "[a]ll MHCRFs in the District are privately owned," and that because all MHCRF residents must have "a mental illness as a condition of residing in a MHCRF, the public disclosure of all MHCRF addresses would necessarily disclose to the world a very private and sensitive fact about all of the residents residing there, i.e. that they have a mental illness." Moreover, DMH claimed that the disclosure of the information would "violate the purpose of the [District of Columbia] Mental Health Information Act," D.C. Code §§ 7-1201.01 to -1208.07 (2001), and would "present[] the risk[] that the MHCRFs or their residents will be unfairly targeted by criminals, subjected to harassment, or other intrusions by members of the community (or the press) by virtue of their mental illness."*fn6 Nevertheless, DMH supplemented its prior disclosure by releasing "the name of all MHCRF operators, the zip code of each facility, the date of license expiration, the number of authorized occupants, the types of license and whether the operator is a contractor or independent." But, DMH stated that: "The addresses and telephone numbers [of the MHCRFs] have been redacted pursuant to D.C. Code § 2-534 (a)(4)."

On May 27, 2009, the Mayor's Office granted Ms. Padou's appeal and reversed DMH's decision not to disclose the addresses of the MHCRFs. The Mayor reiterated the public policy articulated in D.C. Code § 2-531, "all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and employees." The Mayor concluded that Ms. Padou's request did not "relate to any personal information" about individual MHCRF residents, but that it "relate[d] to the treatment facilities and the services they provide"; and thus, the residents' "privacy interests . . . were not implicated by Ms. Padou's FOIA." Furthermore, the Mayor determined that there would be no violation of the Mental Health Information Act because "the disclosure of the addresses of a mental health community residence facility does not fall within the definition of mental health information as described by the [] Mental Health Information Act."

Ms. Padou also appealed DDS's May 1, 2009, decision to withhold street addresses and contact information from its second response to her FOIA request. DDS responded on June 9, 2009, in a six-page letter, and summarized its position as follows:

There can be no question that the information sought by Ms. Padou's FOIA request, the "addresses and contact information associated with community-based facilities overseen by DDS in Ward 5," is of a personal nature and therefore not subject to disclosure in accordance with the exemption in D.C. [] Code § 2-534 (a)(2). The information is protected by the Mental Health Information Act and the Mentally Retarded Constitutional Rights and Dignity Act in accordance with D.C. [] Code § 2-534 (a)(6) ["[i]nformation specifically exempted from disclosure by statute"], though this exemption was not specifically cited in either FOIA response to Ms. Padou. The purpose for which Ms. Padou seeks the information is both immaterial and irrelevant in these circumstances and, in any event, the privacy interests served by the statute far outweigh her tenuous attempt at asserting a public interest in disclosure.

Attached to DDS's answer to Ms. Padou's appeal was a declaration of the Director of Operations for the Developmental Disabilities Administration (""DDA").*fn7 As a basis for withholding certain information on May 1, 2009, including addresses and telephone numbers for providers, the Director mentioned the personal privacy exemption in D.C. Code ยง 2-534 (a)(2), privilege and confidentiality as reflected in both the goals ...

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