State Employees Ass'n v. Department of Management and Budget

Decision Date27 April 1987
Docket NumberDocket Nos. 74503-74505,No. 6,6
Citation404 N.W.2d 606,428 Mich. 104
PartiesSTATE EMPLOYEES ASSOCIATION, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. DEPARTMENT OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET, Defendant-Appellant. ASSOCIATION OF GOVERNMENTAL EMPLOYEES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. DEPARTMENT OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET, Defendant-Appellant. Calendar428 Mich. 104, 404 N.W.2d 606
CourtMichigan Supreme Court

Maurice E. Schoenberger, Michael G. Lofgren, Loomis, Ewert, Ederer, Parsley, Davis & Gotting, Lansing, for plaintiff-appellee Michigan Assn of Governmental Employees.

Fraser Trebilcock Davis & Foster, P.C., Michael E. Cavanaugh, Laura E. Hazen, Lansing, for appellee.

Frank J. Kelley, Atty. Gen., Louis J. Caruso, Sol. Gen., Susan Peck Iannotti, Asst. Atty. Gen., Lansing, for defendant-appellant.

Miller, Cohen, Martens & Ice, P.C. by Bruce A. Miller, Southfield, Mich., for amicus curiae, Michigan State AFL-CIO.

Jordan Rossen, Gen. Counsel, Richard W. McHugh, Associate Gen. Counsel, Intern. Union, UAW, Detroit, Mich., for amicus curiae UAW.

CAVANAGH, Justice.

The issue presented is whether the disclosure of the home addresses of certain governmental employees constitutes a clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy under Michigan's Freedom of Information Act, M.C.L. Sec. 15.231 et seq.; M.S.A. Sec. 4.1801(1) et seq. We would hold that such disclosure does not amount to a clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy, and thus we would affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals requiring defendant to disclose the employees' home addresses.


This case is a consolidation of three separate suits. Plaintiff Michigan State Employees Association (MSEA) is the exclusive labor representative of approximately 26,000 classified civil service employees employed in four bargaining units of the state civil service system. In March, 1983, MSEA requested from defendant Department of Management and Budget the "unit list" for the civil service's business and administrative bargaining unit, and the service's institution bargaining unit. MSEA requested that the unit list contain, among other items, each employee's name and home address.

Plaintiff Michigan Association of Governmental Employees (MAGE) is an employee organization which has been granted limited recognition rights, under the Michigan Civil Service Commission's employee relations policy rule, to represent interested supervisory, managerial, and confidential classified state employees. Such employees are excluded from collective bargaining rights under that same policy rule. In January, 1983, MAGE requested that defendant provide it with the names and home addresses of all employees classified as excluded employees under the civil service employee relations policy rule.

Both MSEA and MAGE based their requests on the Michigan Freedom of Information Act. 1 In response to plaintiffs' requests, defendant offered to provide them with all of the requested information except the employees' home addresses, claiming the disclosure of that information would be an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy under Sec. 13(1)(a) of the act.

Upon denial of their requests, plaintiffs initiated three actions in circuit court. Three summary judgments were entered, requiring defendant to provide the requested information. After consolidating the cases, the Court of Appeals affirmed. 135 Mich.App. 248, 353 N.W.2d 496 (1984). We then granted defendant's application for leave to appeal. 424 Mich. 875 (1986).


The Michigan Freedom of Information Act begins with the following preamble:

"AN ACT to provide for public access to certain public records of public bodies; to permit certain fees; to prescribe the powers and duties of certain public officers and public bodies; to provide remedies and penalties; and to repeal certain acts and parts of acts."

The act then continues with a statement of public policy and a disclosure requirement:

"It is the public policy of this state that all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and public employees, consistent with this act. The people shall be informed so that they may fully participate in the democratic process." M.C.L. Sec. 15.231(2), M.S.A. Sec. 4.1801(1)(2).

This Court has consistently recognized that the FOIA, like its federal counterpart, is a disclosure statute. 2 The public body which denies a request has the burden of showing that the requested information falls within one of the act's exemptions. 3 3] The public's right to "full and complete" disclosure is limited only by the twenty exemptions found in Sec. 13 of the act. M.C.L. Sec. 15.243; M.S.A. Sec. 4.1801(13). The exemptions are to be narrowly construed.

The sole provision asserted by defendant to justify its decision to withhold the requested information is the privacy exemption:

"Sec. 13. (1) A public body may exempt from disclosure as a public record under this act:

"(a) Information of a personal nature where the public disclosure of the information would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of an individual's privacy." M.C.L. Sec. 15.243(1)(a); M.S.A. Sec. 4.1801(13)(1)(a).

Three recent opinions of this Court involve Sec. 13's privacy exemption. In two, Kestenbaum v. Michigan State University, 414 Mich. 510, 327 N.W.2d 783 (1982), reh. den. 417 Mich. 1103 (1983), and UPGWA v. Dep't of State Police, 422 Mich. 432, 373 N.W.2d 713 (1985), the judgments of the Court of Appeals were affirmed by an equally divided Court. The opinions within each of those two cases will be separately discussed, to highlight the various rationales used by the justices in reaching their conclusions. 4

In Kestenbaum v. MSU, supra, the plaintiff requested a copy of the magnetic computer tape which defendant MSU used to produce its student directory. Relying on the FOIA, the plaintiff explained that he wanted to facilitate political mailings in connection with an upcoming election. The defendant refused the request, but offered to provide the plaintiff with a copy of the student directory as soon as it was published, or an immediate printout of the information on the tape. 5

The Court of Appeals reversed the circuit court's order that defendant create a duplicate magnetic tape for plaintiff. 6 The Court relied on the privacy exemption in Sec. 13(1)(a) of the FOIA. The Court also held that the release of the computer tape would violate the constitutional prohibition against public funds being used to support a private purpose. 7 The decision of the Court of Appeals was affirmed by an equally divided court.

Chief Justice Fitzgerald, joined by Justices Williams and Coleman, held that the release of the magnetic tape containing the names and addresses of students would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy. The Court noted:

"[T]here has remained throughout this country's legal history one recognized situs of individual control--the dwelling place. Without exception, this bastion of privacy has been afforded greater protection against outside assaults than has any other location." Kestenbaum, supra, 414 Mich. at p. 524, 327 N.W.2d 783.

The Court then reasoned:

"[A]ny intrusion into the home, no matter the purpose or the extent, is definitionally an invasion of privacy. A fortiori, the release of names and addresses constitutes an invasion of privacy, since it serves as a conduit into the sanctuary of the home." Kestenbaum, supra, pp. 524-525, 327 N.W.2d 783.

In reaching its decision, the Court noted that in Dep't of the Air Force v. Rose, 425 U.S. 352, 372, 96 S.Ct. 1592, 1604, 48 L.Ed.2d 11 (1976), the United States Supreme Court endorsed a balancing test in its review of the federal privacy exemption.

Further, in denying the plaintiff's request, the Court considered the form in which the plaintiff had requested the information be provided, that is, on a magnetic tape.

"Form, not just content, affects the nature of information. Seemingly benign data in an intrusive form takes on quite different characteristics than if it were merely printed.

"The very existence of information in computer-ready form may serve to motivate an invasion of privacy." Kestenbaum, supra, 414 Mich. at p. 532, 327 N.W.2d 783.

The Court concluded that the release of names and addresses on a magnetic tape was a more serious invasion of privacy than disclosure in directory form. 414 Mich. 532, 327 N.W.2d 783.

Justice Ryan, joined by Justices Kavanagh and Levin, dissented. That opinion held that the act's statement of public policy 8 should not be interpreted as providing an independent basis for denying disclosure for requested public records which do not inform the public about the "affairs of government." 414 Mich. 540-541, 327 N.W.2d 783. Justice Ryan cited several provisions of the act to support his conclusion that there was a presumption in favor of disclosure, without the additional need to prove that the release of the requested information was for public use, or would further the general public interest. 414 Mich. 540-542, 327 N.W.2d 783. He noted that persons freely released their home addresses daily, and that such information is typically not personal, intimate, or embarrassing. 414 Mich. 546-547, 327 N.W.2d 783.

"We leave for another day the question whether, in certain unusual circumstances, ordinarily impersonal information might take on an intensely personal character." 414 Mich. 547, 327 N.W.2d 783.

Finally, Justice Ryan disagreed with Justice Fitzgerald that the form in which the requested information was stored was relevant.

"We cannot accept the conclusion that the Legislature intended to allow a public body to exempt otherwise public records from disclosure by the simple expedient of converting the public record from one form to another. Surely such a result would exalt form over substance. The plain language of the statute reveals a...

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