Developmental Disabilities incident reports not public documents, court rules

TRENTON – A state appeals court today upheld the validity of a state regulation that maintains the confidentiality of incident reports prepared by the Division of Developmental Disabilities.

The ruling, which stemmed from an incident on Dec. 1, 2007 at the Hunterdon Developmental Center, supported the Department of Human Services’ contention that such reports are not public documents.

The incident took place at a Christmas party at a Center cottage in which a resident was left unattended in a wheelchair facing a wall, crying for help, and unable to move, according to the ruling.

The residents’ parents, after going to their son’s aid, pursued the matter, which led to an investigation. The parents received an investigation summary, but they argued they were entitled to the full report.

A trial court did order release of a redacted copy of the report to the parents, and the Division gave an unredacted copy to Disability Rights New Jersey, which represented the resident, but that agency was prohibited from providing the parents with the unredacted version.

Basically, the court ruled that the statute in question does not give a resident of a state institution an unfettered right to any document that mentions the resident.

The court sided with the general concern for privacy rights of residents.

“The right to prevent disclosure to a third party does not confer any right upon the patient to obtain access to that report,’’ the court ruled.

Developmental Disabilities incident reports not public documents, court rules