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Sunday, December 09, 2012

Ind. Gov't. - "New wrinkle in death records dispute: County health department says it doesn't keep records on causes"

Updating these earlier ILB entries:

Ind. Gov't. - "A Pike County resident and the Evansville Courier & Press are suing the Vanderburgh County Health Department to obtain access to cause of death information contained on death certificates maintained by the health department."

So began a long story by Mark Wilson in the August 15th Evansville Courier Journal. Some quotes:The newspaper and Rita Ward of Winslow, Ind., contend the death certificates are public records, while the health department interprets state law to require...

Posted in The Indiana Law Blog on August 26, 2012 03:17 PM

Ind. Gov't. - Vanderburgh County changes death-record policy

Some quotes from a story in the Evansville Courier & Press, reported by Tim Ethridge:Officially titled "On The Record," it's placed in the Local section and is where, on Sundays, we list our legislators' votes, marriage licenses and divorce declarations, bankruptcies, food...

Posted in The Indiana Law Blog on May 22, 2012 12:47 PM

Mark Wilson of the Evansville Courier & Press reported on Dec. 6th:
EVANSVILLE — While attorneys argued in court Wednesday over whether documents containing causes of death are public records, a Vanderburgh County Health Department official told the judge the agency doesn't keep those records.

Health Department Administrator Gary Heck said the agency does not keep death certificates with the cause of death information for county residents.

The disclosure came during a hearing on a lawsuit by a Pike County resident and the Evansville Courier & Press, who are seeking access to causes of death information.

The newspaper and Rita Ward of Winslow, Ind., contend the death certificates are public records, while the health department interprets state law to require it to restrict access to the information. The Courier & Press had published causes of death on its Sunday public records page from 2002 until May when the health department suddenly stopped including death causes in the information it provided to the newspaper.

At issue is which Indiana law governs its disclosure, whether the information is kept by the state or the county and whether the county is legally required to provide the information to the public.

State law requires local health departments to keep such records and make them available to the public, attorney Pat Shoulders said during Wednesday's hearing. Shoulders represents Ward and the newspaper in the lawsuit.

That law, Indiana Code 16-37-3-3, says, "The person in charge of interment shall file a certificate of death or of stillbirth with the local health officer of the jurisdiction in which the death or stillbirth occurred."

The law also says, "The local health officer shall retain a copy of the certificate of death."

Heck made a similar statement in a written response to a Courier & Press request in August, stating that the health department "must deny your request for copies of such records because it does not have any documents to copy which would be responsive to your request."

The county contends a different law, Indiana Code 16-37-1-10, says access to records with the cause of death information is restricted to only those who can prove they have a direct interest in it, such as a spouse or immediate relative who may need it for legal purposes.

Circuit Court Judge Carl Heldt, who is retiring after this year, said he will retain jurisdiction of the case as a special judge and make a ruling in January. * * *

The health department does provide death certificates to people who can prove they have a direct interest in a death, such as a spouse or immediate relative, but for an $11.75 fee.

"It's the health department's opinion that they don't feel they can give a death certificate to anybody who comes in off the street," Vanderburgh County Attorney Joseph Harrison Jr. said in court.

When Ward was denied access to the information in June, she filed a complaint with the Indiana Public Access Counselor, who gave a nonbinding opinion in her favor.

Public Access Counselor Joseph Hoage said the requirements that people must show a direct interest in the information applied to the state's death registration system and were changes the state Legislature made beginning in January 2011. However, he said, Indiana law still requires local health departments to maintain records of the death certificates filed by physicians and make them available to the public.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 9, 2012 01:26 PM
Posted to Indiana Government