Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Page 1


C.A. Says Retirement Plan Must Disclose Members’ Names


By a MetNews Staff Writer


A county retirement plan must disclose the names of its members and the amounts they receive in benefits, but need not disclose their ages at retirement, the First District Court of Appeal has ruled.

Div. One Friday granted in part, and denied in part, a writ petition by the Sonoma County Employees’ Retirement Association, after a Superior Court judge in that county had ordered the association to disclose the names, benefit amounts, and retirement ages of its members.

Judge Mark Tansil had ordered disclosure under the California Public Records Act. The Press Democrat, which is published in Santa Rosa and is the county’s major newspaper, sued after SCERA rejected its CPRA request. SCERA argued that Sec. 31532 of the County Employees’ Retirement Law of 1937 exempts the requested records from disclosure.

That section provides:

“Sworn statements and individual records of members shall be confidential and shall not be disclosed to anyone except insofar as may be necessary for the administration of this chapter or upon order of a court of competent jurisdiction, or upon written authorization by the member.” 

Justice Sandra Margulies, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the “individual records” exemption is ambiguous. Noting that an ambiguity must be resolved in favor of disclosure where reasonable, under Proposition 59, the proper interpretation is that the exemption is limited to information furnished to the board—such as medical information obtained from the member’s doctor—and does not include records generated internally.

The justice noted there is no case law or legislative history, nor any attorney general opinion, which applies the statute to records developed by the system internally.

Margulies also cited International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers, Local 21, AFL-CIO v. Superior Court (2007) 42 Cal.4th 319, which held that the names and salaries of city workers earning $100,000 or more per year were subject to disclosure.

International Federation thus confirms that government payroll information— whether it be the salaries of active public employees or the gross pension amounts paid to retirees—is public information that cannot be kept confidential unless it is explicitly made so by statute,” the justice wrote. The court, she noted, specifically rejected the argument that the information sought in that case was exempt from disclosure because it came out of personnel records that might themselves be confidential.

She also rejected the argument that the Legislature intended to grant workers covered by CERL broader confidentiality than other public employees.

“As applied to the specific issues before us, a member’s date of birth and age at retirement would be protected from disclosure either as part of a member’s ‘sworn statement’...or as otherwise nonpublic information about the member supplied to the board by the member or a third party,” the justice concluded. “The names of each retired county employee or beneficiary, and amount of benefits each receives, on the other hand, are not made confidential by section 31532.”

She also rejected the claim that the CPRA’s “catchall” exemption should apply. SCERA’s argument that disclosure will subject its members to consumer fraud is  unavailing because the court is not ordering disclosure of homes addresses, telephone numbers, or email addresses, Margulies said.

The case is Sonoma County Employees’ Retirement Association v. Superior Court (The Press Democrat), A130659.


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