A&A: Construction inspectors’ addresses omitted from CPRA response

Q: I can’t get addresses of crane construction inspectors.  Cal OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) responded to my CPRA request with a partial list of crane inspectors, with their addresses. I demanded the rest of the list and they gave me an alleged complete list without the requested addresses. They said the addresses were exempt as personal info. Is this true or not?

A: The answer to your question may depend on whether the crane inspectors are Cal OSHA employees or licensees, and whether you seek business or home addresses.

Although the Public Records Act, Govt. Code sections 6250 et seq., generally provides that the records of state and local agencies are open for public inspection and copying, the Act does contain numerous exemptions.

For example, the Public Records Act contains expressly prohibits the disclosure of home addresses for “state employees and employees of a school district or county office of education.” Govt. Code section 6254.3(a). Thus, if the crane operators are employees of Cal OSHA, their home addresses may not be disclosed.
Home addresses may also be exempt even if the the crane operators are not Cal OSHA employees. Among the other exemptions is section 6254(c) which exempts “personnel, medical, or similar files, the disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” An “invasion of privacy” is generally considered “unwarranted” if the public interest in secrecy clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure. Braun v. City of Taft, 154 Cal. App. 3d 332, 345 (1984) (standard for weighing whether nondisclosure is proper under § 6254(c) is almost the same as the standard contained in the Public Record Act’s catch-all exemption). Moreover, courts have found that the when the information pertains to a governmental employee or contractor, the more authority the governmental actor has, the more reduced is his or her expectation of privacy, and the less “unwarranted” a disclosure would be. See BRV, Inc. v. Superior Court, 143 Cal. App. 4th 742, 758 (2006).

Although the public’s interest in secrecy will be greatest when the information sought seeks an individual’s intimate, private deals, other interests may also weigh in favor of secrecy. Thus, agencies have been known to withhold address information when they can demonstrate that the disclosure would lead to harassment, even in the form of unsolicited and unwanted mail, of the person whose address is disclosed. See
City of San Jose v. Superior Court, 74 Cal. App. 4th 1008 (1999). Thus courts will generally strictly scrutinize requests for disclosure of home addresses. As the court explained in City of San Jose:

Courts have scrutinized requests for disclosure of names and home addresses contained in public records, because individuals have a substantial privacy interest in their home addresses and in preventing unsolicited and unwanted mail. (Department of Defense, supra, 510 U.S. at pp. 500-501 [109 S.Ct. at pp. 1015-1016] [“We are reluctant to disparage the privacy of the home, which is accorded special consideration in our Constitution, laws, and traditions.”].)
In determining whether the public interest in nondisclosure of individuals’ names and addresses outweighs the public interest in disclosure of that information, courts have evaluated whether disclosure would serve the legislative purpose of ” ‘shed[ding] light on an agency’s performance of its statutory duties.’ ” (Voinche v. F.B.I. (D.D.C. 1996) 940 F.Supp. 323, 330 (hereafter Voinche).) Where disclosure of names and addresses would not serve this purpose, denial of the request for disclosure has been upheld. (Department of Defense, supra, 510 U.S. at p. 502 [114 S.Ct. at p. 1016] [74 Cal. App. 4th 1020] [“privacy interest of bargaining unit employees in nondisclosure of their home addresses substantially outweighs the negligible FOIA-related public interest in disclosure”]; Painting Industry of Hawaii v. Dept. of Air Force (9th Cir. 1994) 26 F.3d 1479, 1486 (hereafter Painting Industry) [no disclosure of names and addresses on employee payroll when disclosure only marginally useful in uncovering ” ‘what the government is up to’ “]; Voinche, supra, 940 F.Supp. at p. 330 [workings of agencies not better understood by disclosure of identity of employees and private citizens who wrote to government officials]; Local 1274, Ill. Fed. of Teachers v. Niles (1997) 287 Ill.App.3d 187, 193 [222 Ill.Dec. 602, 678 N.E.2d 9, 13] [names and addresses of school district parents had “nothing to do with the duties of any public servant”].) Courts have also recognized that the public interest in disclosure is minimal, even when the requester asserts that personal contact is necessary to confirm government compliance with mandatory duties, where the requester has alternative, less intrusive means of obtaining the information sought. (See, e.g., Painting Industry, supra, 26 F.3d at p. 1485.)

However, where the disclosure of names and addresses is necessary to allow the public to determine whether public officials have properly exercised their duties by refraining from the arbitrary exercise of official power, disclosure has been upheld. (CBS, supra, 42 Cal. 3d at p. 656 [revealing identity of concealed weapons permit holders permits public ascertainment of whether law applied evenhandedly]; New York Times v. Superior Court, supra, 52 Cal. App. 4th at pp. 104-105 [disclosure of names of sheriff’s deputies who fired fatal shot permits check against arbitrary exercise of official power]; New York Times v. Superior Court, supra, 218 Cal. App. 3d at p. 1585 [disclosure of excess water users will ensure individuals do not receive special privileges].)

Thus, if you seek home addresses, disclosure will depend on the particular facts of the case and the specific privacy and public interests involved.

And several other issues may be at play here as well. To the extent the crane inspector is an entity, and not an individual person, section 6254(c) will not apply, because business entities do not have “personal privacy” interests. And if you seek a business address, even if that address is also a home address, then there will a negligible privacy interest, or even a complete waiver of privacy interests. See Lorig v. Medical Board, 78 Cal. App. 4th 462, 468 (2000)

Because Cal OSHA is a state agency, another law, the Information Practices Act, Civil Code section 1790 et seq., may also apply. Section 1798.61 specifically provides that it shall not be an invasion of privacy to release the names and addresses of “persons possessing licenses to engage in professional occupations.” If crane inspectors are so licensed, then there would appear to be no obstacle to disclosure.

Bryan Cave LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.