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Colorado Sun and Tegna, Inc. v. Brubaker.

2023 COA 101. No. 21CA1608. Colorado Open Records Act—Children’s Code—Reports of Child Abuse or Neglect—Identifying Information.

November 2, 2023

Colorado Sun and Tegna, Inc., d/b/a KUSA-TV/9News (the media organizations), requested records under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) from Brubaker, the Colorado Department of Human Services (DHS) records custodian, showing the total number of child abuse reports received over a three-year period from certain residential child care facilities. DHS denied the requests, maintaining that CRS § 19-1-307(1)(a) prohibits disclosure of child abuse reports and “the name and address of any child, family, or informant or any other identifying information contained in such reports”; and that disclosure of the requested information would necessarily reveal the address of a child or informant contained in a child abuse report, as the requests were linked to the specific addresses of each residential care facility. The media organizations sued DHS, seeking an order compelling it to produce the requested records. DHS moved to dismiss on grounds that an address is identifying information that must be kept confidential. The district court entered judgment in favor of DHS.

On appeal, the media organizations argued that the district court erred by dismissing their complaint because CRS § 19-1-307(1)(a) does not prohibit DHS from producing the requested records since they would not reveal “identifying information.” The court of appeals first determined that CRS § 19-1-307(1)(a) is ambiguous. It then examined the legislative history of CRS § 19-1-307(1)(a) and determined that the legislature intended to prohibit disclosure of only information that would identify a particular child, family, or informant associated with a child abuse or neglect report. Therefore, the statute prohibits disclosure of an address only if it constitutes identifying information. Accordingly, the district court erred by concluding that DHS properly withheld the requested information.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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