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Jeffery v. Portneuf Medical Center

February 2, 2011

JEFFERY K. WARD, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
PORTNEUF MEDICAL CENTER, INC., AND THE BANNOCK COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS, RESPONDENTS.



Appeal from the District Court of the Sixth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Bannock County. Honorable Mitchell W. Brown, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Jones, Justice.

Boise, January 2011 Term

2011 Opinion No. 8

Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

The decision of the district court is reversed.

Jeffery K. Ward ("Ward") appeals the dismissal of his petition to compel production of certain records of Portneuf Medical Center, Inc. ("PMC") and the Bannock County Board of County Commissioners ("the Board") pursuant to Idaho's Public Records Act ("Act") (I.C. §§ 9- 337 through 9-350). We reverse.

I.

Facts and Procedural History

On July 17, 2008, Ward made a public records request to both PMC and the Board for "true and correct copies of any and all contracts entered into between Portneuf Medical Center and any physician/doctor (M.D. or D.O.), physician group, and/or physician owned entity for the years 2007 to the present." Although the request was directed to both PMC and the Board, legal counsel for PMC responded on behalf of both parties because PMC was the custodian of the records. As the custodian, PMC denied the request, stating that the records were exempt from disclosure pursuant to Idaho Code sections 9-340A(1), 9-340C(8), 9-340D(1), 9-340D(2) and 9- 340D(6).

On November 25, 2008, Ward filed a petition in district court to compel production of the records, arguing that he had complied with the requirements of the Act, that the documents were public records, and that they were subject to disclosure. Alternatively, Ward argued that a statement made by the Chief Executive Officer of PMC, Patrick Hermanson, rendered the documents public pursuant to Idaho Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2) because Hermanson had stated that "every financial relationship we [PMC] have with doctors is done in the sunshine."

The parties agree that, at the time of Ward's initial request, as well as at the time of filing of the petition, PMC was a public agency subject to the disclosure requirements of the Act.*fn1 However, earlier in November, Bannock County residents voted to sell PMC to a private entity, and on January 20, 2009, while Ward's petition was still pending, PMC was dissolved. PMC's business assets, including business records, were sold to a joint venture between Portneuf Health Care Foundation and Legacy Hospital Partners, Inc., ("Legacy") d/b/a Portneuf Medical Center.

In response to the petition, PMC and the Board argued that once PMC was dissolved and sold to Legacy, the Act no longer applied and Ward's petition should be dismissed. They also filed a motion for a protective order, arguing that they no longer had custody of the records because they had been transferred to Legacy, and that the information in the records was proprietary in nature. Additionally, PMC and the Board filed a motion to dismiss for failure to name the real party in interest.

The district court dismissed Ward's petition, holding that the sale of PMC to Legacy, a wholly private entity, removed the request from the purview of the Act. The district court concluded that the determination of whether the documents were public records and, therefore, subject to disclosure under the Act, required a determination of the nature of PMC as either a public or private entity. In reaching its conclusion, the district court relied on an opinion by the Florida District Court of Appeals, Memorial Hosp.-West Volusia, Inc. v. News-Journal Corp., 927 So.2d 961 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2006), which held that a newly privatized hospital was not subject to the state's public record laws. Pursuant to this analysis, the district court concluded that after January 20, 2009, PMC was no longer a public agency in the State of Idaho.

Furthermore, after reviewing the relevant provisions of the Act, the court determined that the "legislature did not intend to bring private entities within the purview of the public records act." Thus, while the court recognized that the records would likely have been subject to disclosure when PMC was still a public agency, it reasoned that "the sale of PMC removed Mr. Ward's grounds for the request." Additionally, the court determined that the statements made by Hermanson could not place the records within the ambit of the Act since the Legislature did not intend for the disclosure requirements to apply to private entities. Because the district court dismissed ...


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