Supreme Court Backs U-M

July 29, 2008
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LANSING — The Michigan Supreme Court recently ruled that the home addresses and telephone numbers of the public employees at the University of Michigan are of a private nature.

By a 5-to-2 vote, the justices overturned an earlier ruling made by the Michigan Court of Appeals.

The Michigan Federation of Teachers filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the university asking for the first and last names, job title, compensation rate, work address and telephone number, and the home address and telephone number of each employee.

University officials complied with the request, but asked each employee if they wanted their home address and phone number included in the union’s FOIA demand.

Of the U-M’s 37,218 employees, 16,406 said they didn’t want that information released and added that they hadn’t had their addresses and numbers published in the university’s directory.

By honoring their wishes, the university denied the FOIA request in part. The school said releasing the home addresses and phone numbers of those employees would constitute an unwarranted invasion of their privacy. The teachers union responded by filing a suit in Washtenaw County Circuit Court asking the court to compel the university to make public the remaining home addresses and phone numbers.

The circuit court ruled that the employees’ home addresses and phone numbers was information of a personal nature and granted the university a summary disposition. The circuit court concluded “one would be hard pressed to argue that disclosure contributes significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government.”

The appellate court, though, thought otherwise.

The panel reversed the circuit court ruling in an unpublished opinion. The court held that home addresses and phone numbers were not “information of a personal nature” because neither revealed embarrassing or intimate details of an individual’s private life.

The appellate court also said there was no previous caselaw that supported a proposition that public employees’ home addresses and phone numbers were items of a personal nature.

But Supreme Court Justices Robert Young, Clifford Taylor, Michael Cavanagh, Maura Corrigan and Stephen Markman overturned the Court of Appeals’ decision and reinstated the ruling from the circuit court, which gave the university a summary disposition of the suit.

The five justices concluded that the home addresses and phone numbers of the public employees was information “of a personal nature.”

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