City & County of San Francisco v. Superior Court was a 1951 case before the California Supreme Court concerning open records and the protection of personal privacy.
This case established that information collected from private companies in confidence for the purpose of creating reports is considered exempt unless the public interest is strongly in favor of disclosure because non-disclosure would result in physical harm coming to an individual or group of individuals.
- The city of San Fransisco passed ordinances on July 1, 1949 which established that the wages of San Fransisco employees would be determined by the recommendation of the civil service commission. The commission, in determining the appropriate salary for each pay grade, is to conduct an open investigation on the prevailing wage for those positions. The commission is required to release a report to the city council, but is also required to maintain the report and all evidence used as public record.
- Employee's of the city, feeling their wage did not match the prevailing wage standard, filed suit. During their suit, they made a request for any documents associated with the decision to establish the wage, including the survey of the wages of local businesses.
- The city rejected the request, claiming that the survey material was granted in the confidence that it would be held private. The city argued that its release would be a detriment to the cities ability to collect the information in the future and would be a detriment to labor relations throughout the city, as well as reveal important trade secrets.
- The trial court ruled in favor of the employees and the city appealed the decision.
Criticisms of the FOIA request
The Secretary of Labor, of the United States Department of Labor, issued a brief in support of the city withholding the documents, arguing that the release would hamper the federal government and prevent them from obtaining information as they rely on similar arguments and methods to collect information.
Ruling of the court
The trial court ruled in favor of the employees, ordering all of the documents released.
The Supreme Court overturned the decision of the trial court ruling in favor of the city and declaring the documents exempt.
The Court first recognized that, typically, the judicial branch does not order the release of information collected in confidence, unless non-release threatens the safety of an individual or group of individuals. Further, the amici curiae brief, filed in support of exempting the documents by the Secretary of Labor, United States Department of Labor, led the courts to believe that the release of this documentation would not only be detrimental to the cities information gathering powers in the future, but would affect other states as well as the national government who use similar methods for determining prevailing wage and monitoring the wages of private companies. Based on these facts the court ordered the documents exempt from records requests. The court further declined to rule on whether or not this violated the town charter, which states that all investigative material must be public.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 Ruling of the Court