FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION
Barbara M. Brennan
Complainants
against Docket #FIC 1999-097
Assessor’s Office, City of Bridgeport;
and City of Bridgeport,
Respondents July 14, 1999

        The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on May 20, 1999, at which time the complainant and the respondents appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint.

        After consideration of the entire record, the following facts are found and conclusions of law are reached:

        1. The respondents are public agencies within the meaning of 1-200(1), G.S. [formerly 1-18a(1), G.S.]

        2. By letter dated March 2, 1999 and filed March 3, 1999, the complainant appealed to the Commission alleging that the respondent assessor denied her access to inspect "the Motor Vehicle Grand List Books for 1997 and 1998 and the Real Estate Grand List Books for 1997 and 1998." The complainant also alleged that she had difficulty getting access to field card information.

        3. It is found that the subject grand list records and the records containing the subject field card information are public records within the meaning of 1-200(5) and 1-210(a) [formerly 1-18a(5) and 1-19(a), G.S.].

        4. Section 1-210(a), G.S. [formerly 1-19(a), G.S.], provides in relevant part:

[e]xcept as otherwise provided by any federal law or state statute, all records maintained or kept on file by any public agency, whether or not such records are required by any law or by any rule or regulation, shall be public records and every person shall have the right to inspect such records promptly during regular office or business hours….

        5. Section 1-212(a), G.S.[formerly 1-15(a), G.S.], provides in relevant part that:

[a]ny person applying in writing shall receive, promptly upon request, a plain or certified copy of any public record.

        6. It is found that the complainant went to the respondent assessor’s office on March 2, 1999 and requested, or sought access to, certain grand list records identified in paragraph 2, above, and certain field card information.

        7. With respect to the subject field card information, the complainant claims that she was only able to obtain access to the field card information she was looking for on March 2, 1999 after following a very unwieldy procedure employed by the respondent assessor’s office. The complainant had to: go to binders to obtain map, block and lot information; use that information to look up the field cards on microfilm; go to a public terminal that also contains some of the field card information, and finally go to a member of the respondent assessor’s staff to obtain and print out ownership and current assessment information. Essentially, the complainant proposes that the respondent assessor should be required to provide access to field card information in a more traditional field card format.

        8. It is found that although the complainant had to follow a time-consuming and cumbersome procedure in order to obtain access to the subject field card information that she was seeking on March 2, 1999, as described in paragraph 7, above, she was not denied access to such information.

        9. It is further found that while the Commission recognizes the logic and common sense in the complainant’s proposal described in paragraph 7, above, the respondent does not maintain the subject field card information in the format proposed by the complainant; and the Commission does not have the authority to order the respondent assessor to maintain records in a particular format, even if such format is more desirable.

        10. It is therefore concluded that the respondent assessor did not violate the provisions of 1-210(a), G.S. [formerly 1-19(a), G.S.] or 1-212(a), G.S.[formerly 1-15(a), G.S.], with respect to the subject field card information.

        11. With respect to the subject grand list records, the complainant maintains that the respondent assessor denied access to both the real estate and motor vehicle grand lists, claiming that the information contained therein was confidential. The respondent assessor provided the complainant with a June 10, 1998 memorandum from the respondent assessor to her staff, instructing the staff not to disclose personal information pertaining to motor vehicles due to the passage of a new federal and state law.

        12. The respondent assessor maintains that she did not deny access to the requested real estate grand lists, that such lists are not confidential and are available for public inspection. The respondent assessor maintains that the 1998 real estate grand list may not have been compiled at the time of the complainant’s request, but became available soon thereafter, and that the 1997 list has been available for public inspection at all times material to this complaint.

        13. It is unclear from the conflicting testimony at the hearing on this matter, whether the complainant requested and was denied access to the subject real estate grand list records. The Commission finds, given the respondent assessor’s concession that real estate grand lists are not confidential, that there was a lapse of communication between the parties at the time of the complainant’s March 2, 1999 requests due to the parties’ apparent frustration with one another, and that the respondent assessor did not deny access to the subject real estate grand lists.

        14. The complainant maintained at the hearing on this matter that the respondent assessor should be required to print and bind the real estate grand lists in a more secure manner. However, as stated in paragraph 9, above, the Commission does not have the authority to order the respondent assessor to maintain records in a particular format, even if such format is more desirable.

        15. It is therefore concluded that the respondent assessor did not violate the provisions of 1-210(a), G.S. [formerly 1-19(a), G.S.], with respect to the subject real estate grand lists.

        16. With respect to the requested motor vehicle grand lists for 1997 and 1998, the respondent assessor maintains that pursuant to the Federal Drivers Privacy Protection Act, 18 U.S.C. 2721, et seq., (hereinafter "FDPPA") and Public Act 97-266, amending 14-10, G.S., the respondent assessor is prohibited from disclosing motor vehicle information contained in such lists. After the hearing on this matter, by letter dated June 18, 1999, the respondent assessor also requested that the Commission take administrative notice of 14-50a(d), G.S.

        17. Section 2721(a) of the FDPPA provides in relevant part:

[e]xcept as provided in subsection (b), a State department of motor vehicles, and any officer, employee, or contractor, thereof, shall not knowingly disclose or otherwise make available to any person or entity personal information about any individual obtained by the department in connection with a motor vehicle record.

        18. Section 2723(b) of the FDDPA provides:

[a]ny State department of motor vehicles that has a policy or practice of substantial noncompliance with this chapter shall be subject to a civil penalty imposed by the Attorney General of not more that $5,000 a day for each day of substantial noncompliance.

        19. Public Act 97-266, An Act Concerning Compliance with the Federal Drivers’ Privacy Protection Act (hereinafter "P.A. 97-266"), amended 14-10, G.S. Section 14-10(c)(2), G.S., as amended by P.A. 97-266, provides in relevant part:

Before disclosing personal information pertaining to an applicant or registrant from…motor vehicle records or allowing the inspection of any such record containing such personal information…the commissioner [of motor vehicles] shall ascertain whether the individual who is the subject of the request has elected to allow disclosure….The commissioner [of motor vehicles] may disclose such personal information or permit the inspection of such record containing such information only if the individual who is the subject of the request has elected to allow disclosure.

        20. Section 14-10(d), G.S., as amended by P.A. 97-266, provides in relevant part:

The commissioner [of motor vehicles] may disclose personal information from a motor vehicle record pertaining to an operator’s license or a driving history or permit the inspection or copying of any such record or history containing such information in the course of any transaction conducted at the main office of the department only if the individual who is the subject of the request has elected to allow disclosure.

        21. Section 14-10(3), G.S., defines personal information as:

[I]nformation which identifies an individual and includes an individual’s photograph or computerized image, Social Security number, operator’s license number, name, address other than the zip code, telephone number, or medical or disability information, but does not include information on motor vehicle accidents or violations, or information relative to the status of an operator’s license, registration or insurance coverage.

        22. Section 14-10(f), G.S., provides:

Notwithstanding the provisions of subsections (c) and (d) of this section, the commissioner [of motor vehicles] or any person contracting with the department may disclose personal information from a motor vehicle record to (1) any federal, state or local government agency in carrying out its functions….

        23. Section 14-50a, G.S., enumerates fees that the Commissioner of DMV shall charge for certain items and services, including requests for information provided in 14-10, G.S.

        24. Section 14-50a(d), G.S., in turn, provides:

No person, firm or corporation furnished information by the commissioner as provided in this section shall distribute such information for any other purpose than for that for which it was furnished.

        25. The respondent assessor claims that she is the custodian of state Department of Motor Vehicles (hereinafter "DMV") information, and as such she is required to comply with the confidentiality provisions of the FDPPA and 14-10, G.S., as amended by P.A. 97-266, and she is therefore prohibited from disclosing the personal information contained in the motor vehicle grand lists.

        26. It is unclear at this time whether the FDPPA is, in fact, constitutional. The United States Supreme Court has agreed to decide the issue. See Reno v. Condon, U.S., No. 98-1464, cert. granted May 17, 1999. In any event, it is found that the state DMV is in substantial compliance with the FDPPA by virtue of P.A. 97-266, and therefore the FDPPA does not act as a bar to disclosure of the subject motor vehicle grand lists.

        27. It is found that the provisions of 14-10, G.S., as amended by P.A. 97-266, apply to personal information, as that term is defined in 14-10(3), G.S., contained in DMV records, and prohibits the commissioner of DMV from disclosing such personal information, without the subject’s consent.

        28. It is also found that there is nothing in 14-10, G.S., as amended by P.A. 97-266, that speaks to whether local government agencies, such as the respondent assessor, that receive information from DMV, as provided for in 14-10(f), G.S., are prohibited, in turn, from disclosing such information to the public.

        29. It is further found that 14-10(f), G.S., authorizes disclosure of personal information from a motor vehicle record to local government agencies in carrying out their functions.

        30. It is therefore concluded that 14-10, G.S., as amended by P.A. 97-266, does not bar the disclosure of the requested motor vehicle grand lists.

        31. It is also concluded that 14-50a(d), G.S., does not bar the disclosure of the requested motor vehicle grand lists because it refers to "person, firm or corporation," rather than to "any federal, state or local government agency," as used in 14-10(f), G.S., and because there is another statute that specifically requires the disclosure of motor vehicle record information to town tax assessors. See paragraph 32, below.

        32. Section 14-163, G.S., states:

The commissioner [of motor vehicles], on or before the first day of December, annually, shall furnish to the tax assessors in each town a list containing the names and addresses of the owners of motor vehicles and snowmobiles residing in their respective towns, as they appear by the records of the Department of Motor Vehicles, with a description of such vehicles.

        33. Section 12-55(a), G.S., in relevant part provides:

(a) When the lists of any town have been so received or made by the assessor or board of assessors, they shall equalize the same, if necessary, and make any assessment omitted by mistake or required by law. . . . When such lists have been so completed, the assessor or board of assessors shall arrange such lists in alphabetical order and lodge the same, except as otherwise specially provided by law, in the town clerk's or assessors' office, on or before the thirty-first day of January, for public inspection. Such assessor or board of assessors shall make an abstract of such lists, including the twenty-five per cent added thereto, shall take and subscribe the oath provided by law, which shall be certified by the officer administering the same and endorsed upon or attached to such abstract, and, except as otherwise specially provided by law, shall lodge such abstract in the town clerk's office, on or before the thirty-first day of January next after the date prescribed for the filing of such lists, for public inspection. (Emphasis added).

 

        34. It is found that the respondent assessor is not the legal custodian of DMV records, but rather is given such records annually pursuant to 14-163, G.S., to compile a motor vehicle grand list for each year.

        35. It is also found that if the legislature had intended to restrict access to the name, address and ownership information provided by DMV to the tax assessors pursuant to 14-163, G.S., it would have done so specifically and explicitly, as it has done in other statutes (e.g., 12-15 and 17a-101k, G.S.).

        36. The Commission declines the respondent assessor’s invitation to apply the law in this case to repeal by implication the explicit public disclosure provisions of 12-55(a), G.S., and Connecticut’s historical system of making grand lists, including personal property grand lists, available to the public for correction or disputation, in the absence of a clear legislative statement of intent to do so.

        37. It is therefore concluded that neither the FDPPA nor the provisions of 14-10, G.S. and 14-50a(d), G.S., prohibit the respondent assessor from disclosing information contained in records received from DMV or the motor vehicle grand lists compiled from such records.

        38. It is further concluded that the respondent assessor violated the provisions of 1-210(a), G.S. [formerly 1-19(a), G.S.], by failing to provide the complainant with access to the requested 1997 and 1998 motor vehicle grand list books.

 

        The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint:

        1. The respondent assessor shall forthwith provide the complainant with access to inspect the subject 1997 and 1998 motor vehicle grand lists.

        2. Henceforth the respondent assessor shall strictly comply with the provisions of 1-210(a), G.S. [formerly 1-19(a), G.S.].

        3. The complaint is hereby dismissed against the respondent city.

  

 

        Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of

July 14, 1999.

 

_________________________

Melanie R. Balfour

Acting Clerk of the Commission

PURSUANT TO SECTION 4-180(c), G.S., THE FOLLOWING ARE THE NAMES OF EACH PARTY AND THE MOST RECENT MAILING ADDRESS, PROVIDED TO THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION, OF THE PARTIES OR THEIR AUTHORIZED REPRESENTATIVE.

THE PARTIES TO THIS CONTESTED CASE ARE:

 

Barbara M. Brennan
11 Liberty Place
Clinton, CT 06413-1709
Assessor’s Office,
City of Bridgeport; and
City of Bridgeport
c/o Atty. John H. Barton
Office of the City Attorney
999 Broad Street, 2nd floor
Bridgeport, CT 06604-4328

 

 

 

 

__________________________

Melanie R. Balfour

Acting Clerk of the Commission

 

 

FIC1999-097FD/mrb/07151999