Silverman v. Ariz. Dept. of Econ. Sec. – 6/13/2023

June 29, 2023

The Arizona Court of Appeals Division One holds that research must have an educational, administrative, or scientific purpose to qualify for the “bona fide research” exception under A.R.S. § 46-460(D)(8).

A journalist requested that the Arizona Department of Economic Security (“DES”) disclose statutorily confidential records about vulnerable and disabled adults. DES denied the request.  The journalist sued, asking the superior court to compel production of the records under A.R.S. § 46-460(D)(8)’s bona fide research exception.  DES moved to dismiss. The court denied DES’s motion to dismiss and sua sponte compelled DES to disclose the records. DES appealed.

The court of Appeals affirmed the denial of DES’s motion to dismiss, vacated the judgment compelling disclosure of the records, and remanded for further proceedings.  The Court explained that reports of abuse of vulnerable adults are confidential by statute such that they may be disclosed only in certain enumerated circumstances. The journalist argued that the “bona fide research” exception applied so as to warrant disclosure. The Court held as a matter of first impression that, in order to qualify for the “bona fide research” exception, research must be for educational, administrative, or scientific purposes. Moreover, to qualify as a bona fide researcher, the researcher must provide detailed descriptions outlining the specific information needed, the research’s purpose and expected outcomes, and how the researcher will maintain the confidentiality of the records.  Applying this standard, the Court concluded that the record on appeal was insufficient to determine whether the journalist’s request qualified as bona fide research or to determine whether DES acted arbitrarily and capriciously in denying the journalist’s records request.

Judge Furuya authored the opinion; Judges Campbell and McMurdie joined.

Posted by: BriAnne Illich Meeds