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Newspaper loses appeal over access to death records

August 30, 2013

A newspaper was not improperly denied access to death records, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

The Evansville Courier & Press requested death records from the Vanderburgh County Department of Health under the Access to Public Records Act, and after an initial advisory opinion to the contrary, the Indiana Public Access Counselor concluded denial was improper.

But the health department continued to refuse to hand over the records, and the Vanderburgh Circuit Court ruled against the newspaper when it sued. An appellate panel affirmed, holding that while these are public records, statutes clearly make exclusions.

Judge Michael Barnes wrote for the panel that I.C. 16-37-1-8 states a local health officer shall provide death certificates “only if” the person seeking the record has a direct interest, among other conditions.

“As neither the Courier & Press nor Ward showed they had a direct interest in the death certificates or that the death certificates were necessary for the determination of personal or property rights or for compliance with state or federal law, the Health Department properly denied their requests,” Barnes wrote for the panel in Evansville Courier & Press and Rita Ward v. Vanderburgh County Health Department, 82A04-1302-PL-57.

“A local health officer need only provide a death certificate to an applicant fulfilling the direct interest and necessity requirements of Section 16-37-1-8. As neither the Courier & Press nor Ward provided any information to make such a showing, the Health Department properly denied their requests,” Barnes wrote.



 
 

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