Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Summary 2011 WY 55

Summary of Decision March 29, 2011

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Summaries are prepared by Law Librarians and are not official statements of the Wyoming Supreme Court

Case Name: Laramie County School District No. One v. Cheyenne Newspapers, Inc.

Citation: 2011 WY 55

Docket Number: S-10-0221

URL: http://wyomcases.courts.state.wy.us/applications/oscn/DeliverDocument.asp?CiteID=461874

Appeal from the District Court of Laramie County, Honorable Michael K. Davis, Judge

Representing Appellant (Defendant): David Evans, Richard D. Bush, and Kristi Radosevich of Hickey & Evans, LLP, Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Representing Appellee (Plaintiff): Michael J. Krampner and Ian K. Sandefer of Krampner, Fuller & Associates, Casper, Wyoming.

Date of Decision: March 29, 2011

Facts: As the parties agreed that no genuine issues of material fact existed, the district court ruled as a matter of law that the Wyoming Public Records Act, Wyo. Stat. 16-4-201 through 205 (2009), read in conjunction with a provision of the Wyoming Education Act, Wyo. Stat. 21-3-110(a)(ii)(A) (2009), entitled Newspaper to information concerning the names and salaries of the individual employees of District.

Issues: Whether the Wyoming Public Records Act, read in conjunction with the Wyoming Education Code, entitles the Plaintiffs to information concerning the names and salaries of individual employees of a school district.

Holdings: The Wyoming Public Record Act (WRPA), specifically Wyo. Stat. 16-4-203(d), provides that employment contracts, working agreements or other documents setting forth the terms and conditions of employment of public officials and employees are not considered part of a personnel file and shall be available for public inspection. A “public employee” is, according to the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act, any “officer, employee, or servant of a governmental entity.” Wyo. Stat. 1-39-103[(a)(iv)(A) . The WPRA thus contains a specific provision which requires that documents reflecting the terms and conditions of employment be made available. It seems obvious that the amount an employee is paid is a term of any employment contract. Thus, the Appellee would be obligated to make this information available to the public and Plaintiffs unless there is some other specific legal provision providing otherwise. Of course, no governmental entity would be required to disclose personal information such as address, age, date of birth, social security number or other similar personal information, since these do not relate to the terms and conditions of employment, and would impact privacy rights of employees.

The Appellee argues that disclosure of its employees’ salaries correlated to the employees’ names is contrary to a specific provision in the Wyoming Education Code (WEC), Wyo. Stat. 21-3-110(a)(ii)(A) (2009), and that this information is therefore exempt from disclosure regardless of the express terms of the WPRA. It contends that the WEC provides the exclusive means for making its employees’ salary information available to the public, and that the legislature has clearly expressed its intent that the information be provided in categories without reference to individual names. However, Wyo. Stat. 21-3-110(a)(ii)(A) does not contain an express statement that information concerning the identity of a school district’s employees is confidential information which must not be revealed to the public, at least in conjunction with salary information, notwithstanding the provisions of the WPRA. While the legislature intended that school districts would offer general salary information which was not specific to any employee to the public through the annual publication required by Wyo. Stat. 21-3-110, it did not intend to make specific salary information confidential as to those employees if a member of the public or the press wishes to expend the time and effort to obtain that information by making a proper request.

In this case, when § 16-4-203(a)(i) and § 16-4-203(d)([i]ii) of the WPRA and § 21-3-110(a)(ii)(A) of the WEC are read in conjunction with each other, the provisions of the education code are not clear enough to exempt the records sought in light of the specific language of the WPRA concerning the right of access to documents relating to terms and conditions of public employment.

The summary judgment in favor of the Appellant, declaring that the Appellee must make the documents described in Wyoming Stat. 16-4-203(d)(iii) available to them for inspection, without concealment of the identity of the employee involved is affirmed. Other personal information such as address, telephone numbers, social security information, and date of birth may be redacted to protect employee privacy, since this information is not part of the terms and conditions of employment. This ruling is without prejudice to the district’s ability to claim that disclosure of the records of particular employees would do a substantial injury to the public interest and to seek a court order so finding.

J. Golden delivered the opinion for the court.

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