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Glassmeyer v. City of Columbia, Opinion

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

September 2, 2015

George S. Glassmeyer, Respondent,
v.
City of Columbia, Appellant

Heard March 5, 2015.

Page 836

Appeal From Richland County. G. Thomas Cooper, Jr., Circuit Court Judge. Appellate Case No. 2013-001880.

W. Allen Nickles, III, of Nickles Law Firm, of Columbia, for Appellant.

Lyndey Ritz Zwingelberg and Kirby Darr Shealy, III, both of Adams and Reese LLP, of Columbia, for Respondent.

HUFF, J. FEW, C.J., and WILLIAMS, J., concur.

OPINION

Page 837

[414 S.C. 216] HUFF, J.:

The City of Columbia appeals the trial court's declaration it violated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)[1] by failing to disclose to George S. Glassmeyer the home addresses, personal telephone numbers, and personal email addresses for applicants to the position of city manager. It also appeals the trial court's award of attorney's fees to Glassmeyer. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

FACTS/PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On January 14, 2013, Glassmeyer sent the City a FOIA request for " all materials relating to not fewer than the final [414 S.C. 217] three applicants for the most recent vacancy announcement for the position of city manager." The City provided these documents but redacted certain information including the home addresses of applicants; some, but not all, of the telephone numbers belonging to applicants and their respective references; applicants' driver's license numbers and restrictions to their respective driver's licenses; and some, but not all, of their reasons for leaving or wanting to leave previous employment positions. In a letter dated January 24, 2013, Glassmeyer requested the City provide him the redacted information. In his response dated January 28, 2013, the City attorney, Kenneth Gaines, explained section 30-4-40 of the South Carolina Code (2007 & Supp. 2014) enumerates matters exempt from disclosure and provides for the redaction of exempt materials from public records. He declared, " Therefore, the City of Columbia has complied with the provisions of the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act and will not release unredacted material to you as you requested."

Glassmeyer filed this action seeking a declaratory judgment the City was in violation of the FOIA and an injunction prohibiting the City from further withholding the information Glassmeyer sought. In addition, Glassmeyer sought attorney's fees and costs. Before formally answering, counsel for the City wrote Glassmeyer's counsel stating he did not agree the public interest outweighed privacy concerns with matters like home ad

Page 838

dresses, personal telephone numbers, and email addresses of applicants and references, and salaries other than public employees making more than $50,000. In addition, he believed the reasons for leaving employment were personal and this information was available through independent inquiry. The City's counsel assured Glassmeyer's counsel there was no " smoking gun" in any of the redacted information and offered to make the unredacted response available to him for review in a confidential manner.

The City subsequently answered the complaint and both parties moved for summary judgment. Prior to the trial court issuing its order, Glassmeyer conceded state law required the City to withhold the applicants' driver's license information. In its order, the trial court held the City was in violation of the FOIA for failing to timely provide its reason for the redactions. The court further found none of the exemptions to [414 S.C. 218] disclosure applied. It held the South Carolina Family Privacy Protection Act,[2] was not applicable. Accordingly, it granted Glassmeyer's motion for summary judgment and denied the City's motion. In addition, the court struck the City's motion for attorney's fees. It held the record open for Glassmeyer to submit an affidavit for attorney's fees. The City subsequently filed a motion to alter or amend, which the trial court denied. In an order filed August 27, 2013, the trial court awarded Glassmeyer $11,185.01 in attorney's fees.

On September 4, 2013, the City served its notice of appeal. The same day it also filed a modified response to plaintiff's FOIA request, noting it was in keeping with the notice of appeal. The response contained all information previously redacted except for personal addresses, ...


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