Granite State Trade School v. N.H. Dep't of Safety, Doc. No. 217-2009-E-474 (Merrimack Super. Ct., January 19, 2010) (McNamara, J.)

Pages: 1 2 3 4


The State of New Hampshire


Granite State Trade School, LLC


State of New Hampshire Department of Safety

NO. 09-E-0474


Petitioner has brought an action pursuant to the Right to Know Law, RSA 91-A, to obtain a complete list of all gas fitter licensees in New Hampshire along with their complete mailing and email addresses. Petitioner made a request for this information of the State Fire Marshall on June 1, 2009. The request was denied and the Fire Marshall stated that home addresses, home phone numbers and email addresses are exempt from disclosure under the law.

The petition before the Court seeks the names, mailing addresses and email addresses of all gas fitter licensees. At oral argument, Petitioner's counsel made it clear that he is seeking home addresses of the licensees. The State represented that it does not maintain e-mail addresses. It opposes disclosure of home addresses on the grounds that the information is confidential under RSA 91-A:5, IV. For the reasons stated in this opinion, the Petitioner's request for injunctive relief is DENIED.

The purpose of the Right to Know Law is to "insure both the greatest possible public access to the actions, discussions and records of all public bodies, and their [2] accountability to the people." Murray v. New Hampshire Division of State Police, 154 N.H. 579, 581 (2006). For that reason, a court must analyze the Right to Know Law with a view to providing "the utmost information to best effectuate the statutory and constitutional objective of facilitating access to all public documents." Lambert v. Belknap County Convention, 157 N.H. 375, 379 (2008).

However, the Right to Know Law contains an exception for files or information whose disclosure would constitute an invasion of privacy. RSA 91-A:5, IV. When a claim is made that disclosure of information would constitute an invasion of privacy, a three-step analysis must conducted. First, the reviewing court must evaluate whether there is a privacy interest at stake that would be invaded by the disclosure. Lambert v. Balknap County Convention (supra) at 383. Whether information is exempt from disclosure because it is private is judged by an objective standard, and not a party's subjective expectations. Id.

Second, the public's interest in disclosure must be considered. Disclosure of the requested information should inform the public about the conduct and activities of their government. Lambert v. Belknap County Convention (supra) at 383. If disclosing the information does not serve this purpose, disclosure will not be warranted even though the public may nonetheless prefer, albeit for other reasons, that the information be released. Lamy v. Public Utilities Commission, 152 N.H. 106, 111 (2005).

Finally, the public interest in disclosure must be balanced against the government's interest in nondisclosure and the individual's privacy interest in nondisclosure. Lambert v. Belknap County Convention (supra) at 383. An individual's motives in seeking disclosure are irrelevant to the question of access. Id. at 111.

[3] Here, there is no doubt that the information sought implicates a privacy interest. As the Court noted in Lamy v. Public Utilities Commission, (supra) at 110, there is at least a modest privacy interest assigned to an individual's name and address." In Lamy, in which the Court denied a petitioner's request for the names and addresses of power customers who had experienced problems so that he could investigate his claim, the Court also noted that "a discernable interest exists in the ability to retreat to the seclusion of one's home and to avoid enforced disclosure of one's name and address. Lamy v. Public Utilities Commission (supra) at 110. The Court noted that the United States Supreme Court has recognized individuals have "some nontrivial privacy interest in avoiding the influx of unwanted, unsolicited mail with the telephone and visits that could follow from disclosure of their names and home addresses." (italics in original) Lamy at 110, citing Department of Defense v. FLRA, 510 U.S. 487, 501 (1994).

There is no doubt that the disclosure of this information will not tell the public anything about the Department of Safety. As in Lamy, the disclosure of this information will not tell the public anything about how the Fire Marshall licenses gas fitters, what the standards for becoming a licensed gas fitter are, or anything else about the Department of Safety's operations. Lamy v. New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission, (supra) at 111. Indeed, the Petitioner does not allege that he seeks the information for that reason. Rather, he asserts that he seeks the information so that he can advertise the continuing education programs that he seeks to offer to the gas fitters.

In balancing the interests of the individual gas fitters and the Petitioner, the Court believes that the balance falls on the side of the gas fitters' privacy. While the service the Petitioner seeks to provide may well be a valuable one, the fact remains that [4] if this information is produced, licensed gas fitters may be subjected to precisely the type of invasion of privacy described in Lamy: "An influx of unwanted, unsolicited mail or telephone calls and visits." Lamy (supra) at 110. In sum, Petitioner is precisely the sort of "commercial advertiser or solicitor" (Lamy at 110) whose interest is not in learning more about the operation of government, but in advertising his commercial venture. Unlike Lambert v. Belknap County Convention, (supra) which involved candidates for public office, there is no public interest in determining the home addresses of the gas fitters. Accordingly, the Petition must be denied.


   1/19/10       /s/   

DATE Richard B. McNamara,

Presiding Justice