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Stivahtis v. Juras

June 25, 1973

STIVAHTIS ET AL, RESPONDENTS,
v.
JURAS ET AL, APPELLANTS



Appeal from Circuit Court, Multnomah County. William M. Dale, Judge. No. 376-754.

Al J. Laue, Assistant Attorney General, Salem, argued the cause for appellants. With him on the brief were Lee Johnson, Attorney General, and John W. Osburn, Solicitor General, Salem.

Glen H. Downs, Legal Aid Service -- Multnomah Bar Association, Portland, argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief was Laird Kirkpatrick, Legal Aid Service -- Multnomah Bar Association, Portland.

Schwab, Chief Judge, and Langtry and Foley, Judges.

Schwab

This is a representative suit brought by plaintiffs on behalf of all public assistance recipients of Oregon, seeking a declaratory judgment that, pursuant to

ORS 192.030,*fn1 a public assistance recipient may have access to all records maintained by the Oregon Public Welfare Division which pertain to the recipient. Plaintiffs also sought injunctive relief to enforce the declaratory judgment. The parties submitted the case to the trial court on the pleadings and on stipulated facts.

The trial court's order granted the relief prayed for. Defendants appeal, claiming that the files of the Public Welfare Division are confidential and are exempt by the provisions of ORS 411.320*fn2 and 418.130*fn3 from examination by the persons who are the subjects of the files.

In September 1971, the Oregon State Board of Social Protection was petitioned to order the involuntary sterilization of Patricia D. Stivahtis, one of the individual plaintiffs herein. The record does not indicate who filed the petition. Subsequently, the Board notified Mrs. Stivahtis that a hearing on the petition would be held to consider her mental and physical condition, personal records and family history, to determine whether her involuntary sterilization should be ordered.

At that time, both she and her husband, Richard T. Stivahtis, were receiving public assistance. They executed a release authorizing the Public Welfare Division to release to their attorneys its records regarding Mrs. Stivahtis's physical and mental condition or family history. Defendants refused to release the information, and plaintiffs brought this suit to establish their claim of right to access to public records under ORS 192.030. Both parties concede that recipients' records maintained by the Public Welfare Division are "public records" within the meaning of ORS 192.005 (5).*fn4

Public policy in Oregon favors public access to government records. Papadopoulos v. St. Bd. of Higher Ed., 8 Or App 445, 494 P2d 260, 265 (1972). ORS 192.030 articulates that policy:

"The custodian of any public records of the state or a political subdivision, unless otherwise expressly provided by statute, shall furnish proper and reasonable opportunities for inspection and examination of the records * * *." (Emphasis supplied.)

Disclosure is the rule; withholding of public records is the exception, not authorized unless a statute expressly so provides. Being in derogation of the expressed public policy of this state, statutes creating exceptions to the rule favoring disclosure will not be given a ...


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