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Michelson v. Wyatt

August 11, 2005

WILLIAM H. MICHELSON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
LADDIE WYATT AND THE CITY OF PLAINFIELD, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Union County, Docket No. L-1821-03.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cuff, J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION

Argued October 18, 2004

Before Judges Cuff, Weissbard and Hoens.

Plaintiff is a citizen who requested information concerning the health insurance benefits enjoyed by employees of the city in which he resides. Plaintiff appeals from an order denying access to the requested health information records. His request raises questions about whether the information is required to be disclosed or is protected information under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) or the privacy provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Except for a minor aspect of the order, we affirm.

On January 31, 2003, plaintiff William H. Michelson filed a Request for Access to Government Records (Request) with defendant Laddie Wyatt, the City Clerk of defendant City of Plainfield (the City). The Request contained a cover letter to Wyatt in which plaintiff outlined his document needs. Second, plaintiff completed the application form created by the City Clerk for document requests. He requested "documents relating to the City's employee group medical insurance program." Third, plaintiff appended a rider to this application detailing nine document requests. It states:

I request a copy of any documents responsive to the following items. If some of them are available by way of a pre-printed brochure or computer print-out, that is acceptable.

1. Description of any and all medical insurance plans which have been available to employees or officials of the City of Plainfield at any time during calendar years 2001, 2002 and 2003. I am particularly interested in the instructions which would advise employees and officials about coverage available for their dependents or family members, and what cost there would be to them. If certain plans were available only to certain categories of employees or officials, i.e., based on what union (if any) they belong to, please identify them accordingly. If employees of independent agencies such as the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority and Plainfield Housing Authority have been entitled to coverage under any medical plan administered or paid for by the City of Plainfield, then similar information pertaining to them is included in this request.

2. That portion of all union contracts, employment or other individual contracts, or memoranda of agreement, which describe the entitlement to medical insurance, including coverage for dependents and others, for all City employees or officials, during calendar years 2001, 2002 and 2003. With regard to union contracts, I only need those pages which are pertinent to this request.

3. Any City Council resolution, or executive order of the Mayor, which pertains to the medical insurance available to elected or appointed officials of the City of Plainfield, for any time during calendar years 2001, 2002 and 2003. See N.J.S.A. 40A:10-16(b), copy attached.

4. Any and all bills or invoices received by the City of Plainfield from any insurance company or HMO which provided medical insurance to City employees or officials at any time during 2001, 2002 or 2003, showing what the cost of such coverage was to the City. Please include all breakdowns provided by the insurance companies, which would show what the cost was for each employee or official, or for each dependent or other person included under their coverage. If you have any summaries of coverage cost as defined in N.J.S.A. 40A:10-24, copy attached, from any insurance company, please furnish that as well.

5. A list of each and every City employee or official, whether employed directly by the City or by any independent agency or authority, who had coverage under any of the City's group medical insurance plans at any time during the years 2001, 2002 and 2003. For each such person, please show his/her home address, job title, and inception or termination date of employment (if applicable). Also, for each such person, please provide a complete list of each and every dependent or other person who enjoyed coverage under the City medical insurance plans during any of the same time periods. For each such dependent, please give his/her name, home address, age, and any other available information which would describe why they were entitled to coverage.

6. For every alleged dependent or other non-employee included under the City's medical group insurance plans, for the same periods as above, please provide a statement of all costs incurred by the City as a result of each such coverage.

7. A list of each and every employee or official who, under N.J.S.A. 40A:10-17.1 or --18 (copy attached), waived coverage, either for himself/herself or for any dependent, at any time during the years 200[1], 2002 and 2003.

8. A list of each and every employee or official who, at any time during the years 2001, 2002 and 2003, has had any payroll deductions for medical insurance premiums, w[he]ther for themselves, their dependents or others, under any of the City medical insurance group plans. For each such employee, please show how much was deducted from each check, over what period of time, and what the reason for deduction was.

9. A list of each and every retired employee or official who, at any time in 2001, 2002 or 2003, has remained on any of the City medical insurance plans under N.J.S.A. 40A:10-23 (copy attached), with an explanation of their entitlement to have any or all of the costs of such coverage paid by the City.

On March 18, 2003, Wyatt responded to plaintiff's Request. Fourteen documents, including a summary description of the State Health Benefits Plan (the Plan), relevant portions of seven union contracts representing groups of City personnel, such as police and firefighters, copies of State Health Benefit Commission (the Commission) billings for active employees from January 2001 through January 2003, and retired employees from January 2001 through February 2003, copies of invoices for dental and prescription coverages from January 2001 through February 2003, copies of invoices for long-and short-term disability coverage from January 1, 2001 through January 1, 2003, and a copy of the resolution authorizing City participation in the Plan were provided to Michelson. The City Clerk did not provide any individualized information about current employees, retired employees or officials, current officials and their dependents who participate in the medical insurance plans offered by the City. Plaintiff promptly complained that the response satisfied only categories 1-3 and part of category 4 of his request and that a ...


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