Public Employee Home Address Disclosure to be decided on Individual Basis
The Commonwealth Court has remanded proceedings back to the Office of Open Records (OOR) to decide on an individual basis whether the home addresses of members of the State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS) are exempt from public disclosure. State Employees Retirement System v. Pennsylvanians for Union Reform, 207 C.D. 2014 (Pa.Cmwlth. Mar. 20, 2015).
PFUR requested the names and home addresses of SERS members. SERS initially released the names and home address of 34,524 members, but denied access to the names and home addresses of 86,149 members due to alleged personal security concerns. PFUR appealed to the OOR. SERS mailed notices of PFUR’s appeal to each SERS member whose name and home address had been withheld. SERS notice included a form with a pre-printed objections that the member could fill out and return to the OOR to object to the disclosure of their home address. Contrary to the OOR’s advice, SERS used an unverified form. Only 3,851 SERS members objected to the disclosure of their name and home address.
PFUR objected to the SERS form because it did not require SERS members to swear or affirm that the information on the pre-printed form was accurate. The OOR overruled PFUR’s objection because PFUR had permitted SERS members to opt-out of PFUR’s request by completing a form on PFUR’s website. The OOR permitted SERS to withhold the name and home address of every member that objected.
The Commonwealth Court found that PFUR did not waive its objections to the SERS form by permitting SERS members to opt-out. The Commonwealth Court ordered the OOR to determine whether the objecting SERS members met their burden to show that the disclosure of their name and home address would endanger their personal security. The Commonwealth Court directed the OOR to consider PFUR’s objection to the unverified form, noting that the Commonwealth Court has previously held that verified forms can constitute sufficient evidence to support the applicability of a RTKL exemption to a requested record.
The Commonwealth Court also held that member of the union, CIVEA, could not rely on a broad, categorical personal security exemption merely because some members work directly with prisoners. The Court remanded these members to the OOR to determine which members worked directly with prisoners and which members did not.
Note: The authors of this blog represent PFUR in these proceedings.