Coalition to Save Horsebarn Hill v. FOIC was a case before the Connecticut Appellate Court in 2002 concerning the deliberative process exemption.
This case established a number of important precedents:
- Documents produced outside of a public body but held by a public body may still fall within the exemption for preliminary drafts and notes.
- The preliminary draft exemption may continue to apply after projects have been abandoned, if the public interest in concealing those documents is greater than the public interest in disclosure.
- The Coalition to Save Horsebarn Hill submitted a FOIA request to the University of Connecticut for documents relating to an abandoned project with Pfizer, Inc. for the construction of a pharmaceutical research building.
- The university denied the request, claiming that the documents were exempt under the preliminary drafts exemption found in Conn. Gen. Stat. Chapter 14, Sec. 1-210.(b)(1).
- The Coalition filed suit with the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC) alleging that the documents could not fall within the exemption as they were not drafted by the university and they were post-decisional in nature.
- The FOIC ruled in favor of the university.
- The Coalition appealed the decision to superior court. The affirmed the ruling of FOIC.
- The Coalition appealed the decision to appellate court.
Ruling of the court
The trial court affirmed the decision of the FOIC, determining that the university was within its rights to exempt the documents in question.
The Court of Appeals ____ the decision of the trial court. First the court affirmed the decision in Wilson v. Freedom of Information Commission in determining that the exemption, "relates to advisory opinions, recommendations and deliberations comprising part of the process by which government decisions and policies are formulated.... Such notes are predecisional. They do not in and of themselves affect agency policy, structure or function. They do not require particular conduct or forbearance on the part of the public. Instead, preliminary drafts or notes reflect that aspect of the agency's function that precedes formal and informed decision making." The court went on to reject the Coalition's contention that the documents did not fall under the exemption. First, the court rejected the notion that the deliberative process exemption did not apply because the documents originated outside of a public agency. They instead held that the exemption could apply to any documents held by a public agency, despite their point of origin. The court then went on to establish that the items in question were still predecisional, as the university had not yet entered into a binding contract with Pfizzer, Inc.. The court also felt that the FOIC held correctly that the public interest was still in favor of non-disclosure, as the release would hamper future real estate negotiations. Based on these decisions, the court affirmed the decision of the lower courts and held the documents exempt under the preliminary drafts exemption.