Court victory for NHRTL in Right-to-Know suit against NH DHHS

 

Jane Cormier, NHRTL President (E. Kolb photo)
Jane Cormier, NHRTL President (E. Kolb photo)

“The people of New Hampshire do not need permission from Planned Parenthood to see records that are theirs to see.” With that, attorney Michael Tierney summed up a December 22 decision in Strafford County (NH) Superior Court in favor of New Hampshire Right to Life in a right-to-know lawsuit filed against the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Michael Tierney, attorney representing NHRTL (Ellen Kolb photo)
Michael Tierney, attorney representing NHRTL (Ellen Kolb photo)

The court ordered DHHS to pay NHRTL attorney’s fees and costs. Any taxpayers objecting this this should ask Governor Hassan and outgoing DHHS Commissioner Nick Toumpas why DHHS didn’t turn over unredacted documents regarding Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, a state contractor, when asked to do so.

NHRTL asserts that DHHS’s decision to delay responding to the right-to-know request allowed PP time to redact information from what should have been publicly-available documents.

New Hampshire Right to Life’s press release:


CONCORD, N.H. – On Tuesday, December 22, the Strafford County Superior Court ruled that New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services should not have delayed releasing documents under a valid “right to know” request from New Hampshire Right to Life.

The documents in question related to the licensing of Planned Parenthood’s distribution of the abortion drug RU-486 and FDA safety protocols required under NH state law.

“It was clear Planned Parenthood and the NH Dept. of Health and Human Services worked together to try to thwart a legitimate Right to Know request from NHRTL,” says Jane Cormier, President of NHRTL. “This was a victory for all community organizations, businesses, and individuals who seek transparency and fairness from their government. NH DHHS broke the law when it did not enforce a simple right to know request. By doing so, they gave Planned Parenthood the ability to redact important information regarding RU-486 protocols, which Planned Parenthood was legally required to fully disclose. It is our hope that in the future, Planned Parenthood will not receive unfair advantage and support from the New Hampshire Dept. of Health and Human Services,” says Cormier.

While the state and Planned Parenthood admitted they spent time working together to determine which parts of the documents should and should not be released to NHRTL, Judge Tucker of the Strafford County Superior Court concluded “it should have produced the protocols to NHRTL without redactions.” Judge Tucker also ruled the state must pay all attorneys’ fees and costs to New Hampshire Right to Life.

“The people of New Hampshire do not need permission from Planned Parenthood to see records that are theirs to see. The court was right to recognize that the state should not have given Planned Parenthood the ability to determine what is and is not a public document,” says Michael Tierney, legal counsel of NHRTL and attorney of Wadleigh, Starr, and Peters in Manchester.

Tierney is an allied attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom. ADF’s press release on the decision:

CONCORD, N.H. – A New Hampshire court ruled Tuesday that the state’s Department of Health and Human Services was wrong to wait for permission from Planned Parenthood before releasing documents the agency was legally required to disclose under a valid “right to know” records request. The court therefore ruled that the state must pay attorneys’ fees to New Hampshire Right to Life, which filed the request through an Alliance Defending Freedom allied attorney.

The documents, specific to 2012 and 2015, are related to the state’s ongoing licensing of Planned Parenthood to distribute the RU-486 drug in a manner that violates FDA safety protocols, required under state law since 2006. The state and Planned Parenthood admitted that they spent time working together to determine which parts of the documents should and should not be released to NHRTL, but the court concluded that “it should have produced the protocols to NHRTL without redactions….”

“The people of New Hampshire do not need permission from Planned Parenthood to see records that are theirs to see. They deserve to know if government officials are allowing Planned Parenthood – already the subject of numerous scandals and investigations – to get away with skirting the law yet again,” said Michael Tierney, one of more than 3,000 private attorneys allied with ADF. “The court was right to recognize that the state should not have given Planned Parenthood the ability to determine what is and is not a public document.”

The Strafford County Superior Court’s decision comes in New Hampshire Right to Life v. New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, a case related to a lawsuit concerning a larger number of records that is currently on appeal at the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

“Here, the public interest is served by allowing citizens to discern whether DHHS is properly enforcing the mandates of RSA 318:42, VII [the state’s pharmaceutical dispensing law],” the decision states. “In his May 2015 Order, Judge Mangones determined that the public interest outweighs the commercial interest at stake on this precise issue, and DHHS did not challenge that ruling. Accordingly, it should have produced the protocols to NHRTL without redactions in the first instance, and two months from when this litigation was initiated. The omission violated RSA 91-A,” the state’s “right to know” law; therefore, “the lawsuit was necessary to enforce compliance with the Right-to-Know Law and to obtain access to unredacted protocols.”

“The government costs taxpayers money when it decides to break the law,” noted ADF Legal Counsel Catherine Glenn Foster. “All the state had to do was follow a very simple law, but instead it continued to stonewall legitimate inquiries into its dealings with a scandal-ridden, billion-dollar abortion business.”