Transparency advocates sue Corizon Health for settlement agreements with prisoners

FOG, The Santa Fe New Mexican and the Albuquerque Journal today filed a Writ of Mandamus against Corizon Health asking the court to make public certain settlement documents between Corizon and inmates in the state’s prison system.

Filed in the state district court in Santa Fe, the transparency lawsuit alleges that the documents are public records under the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) despite any confidentiality agreements between Corizon and current and former prisoners who settled their lawsuits concerning medical services from Corizon providers.

Under its $37 million per year contract with the New Mexico Department of Corrections, Corizon provided all medical services at 10 state prison facilities, which resulted in many lawsuits against Corizon for inadequate care.

Santa Fe attorneys Daniel Yohalem and Katherine Murray represent FOG and the newspapers. Yohalem noted, “In providing these medical services, Corizon was performing a public function and documents created in that capacity are public documents.

“As a result, Corizon is subject to the disclosure requirements of IPRA and has no greater right to withhold records than the Department of Corrections would have had under IPRA,” Yohalem added.

FOG, The New Mexican and the Journal had separately filed IPRA requests with Corizon and the Department of Corrections for the documents. The department claimed it did not have the documents.

While Corizon initially seemed to recognize its responsibility to produce the settlements under IPRA, it ultimately put the confidentiality provisions in the settlements above IPRA’s mandate and the strong New Mexico public policy in favor of disclosure.

“Because of the sensitive nature of many of the claims, we do not object to the redaction of the names of the settling plaintiffs who sued using pseudonyms,” Yohalem explained.

“However,” he said, “a public body or a third party standing in the shoes of a public body cannot contract away its IPRA obligations, which is void against public policy to the extent that it conflicts with the text and purpose of IPRA.”

A copy of the petition is available here.