Honolulu Civil Beat v. Department of Public Safety

Online publication Civil Beat challenged the Department of Public Safety’s refusal to identify and provide autopsy reports for individuals who died while in the Department’s custody. The Department has asserted that the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prohibits disclosure.

HIPAA has exceptions that apply to Civil Beat’s request.  As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services explained one exception:

Thus, if a state FOIA law designates death records and autopsy reports as public information that must be disclosed, a covered entity may disclose it without an authorization under the rule. To the extent that such information is required to be disclosed by FOIA or other law, such disclosures are permitted under the final rule.  65 Fed. Reg. 82,597 (Dec. 28, 2000).

The case was assigned to Judge John M. Tonaki.  On November 14, 2022, Judge Tonaki ordered the Department to disclose the names of individuals who died in custody and autopsy reports.  Civil No. 1CCV-21-1329.