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PLN files public records suit against PHS in Vermont

Nashville Post, Aug. 26, 2010.
PLN files public records suit against PHS in Vermont - Nashville Post 2010

Nonprofit sues America Service over legal, other records

Group that won '09 ruling against CCA takes aim at prison health provider in Vermont

By Geert De Lombaerde
08-26-2010 10:25 AM

The nonprofit that has for years been a thorn in the side of Corrections Corp. of America is now taking aim at another Middle Tennessee public company in Vermont.

Prison Legal News has filed suit in Vermont Superior Court against PHS Correctional Healthcare, a subsidiary of Brentwood-based America Service Group. It says the company is, as a contractor for what has traditionally been a public service, essentially an arm of Vermont’s government and that it thus cannot withhold documents related to its operations.

The move comes two weeks after PLN formally – and without success – requested that PHS provide copies of its Vermont contracts as well as various documents related to lawsuits and legal settlements. In its suit, Prison Legal News is relying on legal precedents set in Tennessee and elsewhere that private companies contracting with public agencies are subject to public-records laws as if they were government entities.

The most notable locally-connected among those "functional equivalency" cases involved CCA: The Tennessee Court of Appeals last year ruled the Nashville-based company needed to produce lawsuits, audits and other reports requested by PLN. The Tennessee Supreme Court this spring declined to CCA’s appeal.

"The state can outsource public functions and services such as health care for prisoners," said PLN Editor Paul Wright. "But it cannot contract out the public’s fundamental right to know how their tax dollars are being spent and the quality of services the public is getting for its money."

America Service execs declined to comment citing company policy regarding pending litigation. The company provided medical care to Vermont inmates until this past January. Last fall, officials decided not to bid on a new contract estimated to be worth about $18 million annually after its terms were changed. The bid process also began shortly after medical examiners ruled that an inmate died in part because she was denied access to medicine.

Shares of America Service (Ticker: ASGR) closed Wednesday trading at $13.30, up about 3 percent on the day, and were changing hands at that price around 10:20 this morning. They’ve fallen more than 20 percent since the company reported second-quarter profits four weeks ago and are down about 16 percent year to date.