Q: I submitted a CPRA for completed/submitted applications of Citizen Bond Oversight Committee members, however, the school district denied “the request stating my request for the completed applications are protected from disclosure pursuant to Government Code section 6254(c), disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” I reviewed the government code and think it does not apply to the CBOC members since they are volunteers and not personnel. Would you be able to clarify my assumption? Your assistance would help me bring much-needed transparency in our district.
A: As you know, the CPRA contains many exceptions to its disclosure rules, including an exemption from disclosure for personnel, medical, and similar files, “the disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” Cal. Gov. Code § 6254(c). We note that this exemption by its terms is not limited to government employees, and therefore might apply to documents concerning appointees or volunteers.
Public agencies sometimes invoke the exemption of § 6254(c) for job applications, as there is a concern that applicants may be deterred from submitting full and accurate information if they knew their applications would become public records. The California Supreme Court recognized this in Wilson v. Superior Court, 51 Cal. App. 4th 1136 (1997) (denying a request for copies of applications submitted by potential political appointees). However, there is no bright-line rule that employment applications are exempt from disclosure. As one court has held, the exemption in § 6254(c) was created to protect intimate details of personal and family life, not official business judgments and relationships. Bakersfield City School Dist. v. Superior Court, 118 Cal. App. 4th 1041, 1045 (2004). Therefore, some information contained in applications is not exempt. In Eskaton Monterey Hospital v. Myers, 134 Cal. App. 4th 1136 (1982), the Court of Appeal held that “information as to the education, training, experience, awards, previous positions and publications of the (employee) … is routinely presented in both professional and social settings, is relatively innocuous and implicates no applicable privacy or public policy exemption.” Such information could therefore be subject to disclosure under the CPRA.
You could consider writing a letter back to the school district clarifying the exact information you are requesting. In the letter, you could also ask that, if the district still maintains that the information is exempt, that the district be more specific regarding its claimed exemption and the facts supporting it, including why disclosure would be an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” If the district wishes to claim an exemption for any of its records or the information therein, it must cite an exemption and explain why that exemption applies. Cal. Gov. Code § 6253(c) (agency shall “promptly notify the person making the request of the determination and the reasons therefor.”). If it denies your request, the district’s response to your inquiry could assist you in determining whether the district has invoked a valid exemption and whether further action to enforce the CPRA may be necessary.
Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner 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. No attorney-client relationship has been formed by way of this response.