Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Court Denies Freedom of Information Request For Name of Mohel Who Spread Herpes

In In re Application of Berger and The Jewish Daily Forward v. New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, (NY Sup Ct Queens Co., Dec. 2, 2013), a New York state trial court rejected an investigative reporter's Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request for the name of the Mohel (Jewish ritual circumcision practitioner) who infected an infant with herpes while using the Orthodox Jewish circumcision practice of Metzizah B'Peh (oral suction).  Rules promulgated by the New York City health department require written informed consent from parents for use of the oral suction method. (See prior posting.) In rejecting the FOIL request, the court relied on the statutory exemption for records which "if disclosed would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy...." The court said:
A person with herpes or any similar communicable disease suffers the same privacy concerns whether or not his business or personal life is concerned. In either instance, their personal privacy concerns are implicated irrespective of their vocational situation. The fact that an infected individual is a Mohel, a sous chef, or a police officer, no less implicates their personal privacy interests, or diminishes the need to keep their health status confidential.... 
The court finds that the disclosure of the names of the reported persons would likely subject the named individuals to vilification in the press, as well as embarrassment and shame in both their business and private life, in addition to possible sanctions for violations of the NYC Health Code if they infected others. The Court is also aware of the difficulties encountered by the New York City Department of Health in obtaining the cooperation of infected persons or members of religious orders in reporting conditions involving the spread of contagion.
The Forward yesterday reported on the decision.