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High court deems motor vehicle tax filings public record

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         CONNECTICUT         Freedom of Information         Feb 5, 2002    

High court deems motor vehicle tax filings public record

  • The state Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling ordering Bridgeport’s tax assessor to provide an insurance investigator with access to the city’s motor vehicle tax lists.

In a terse decision affirming a lower court ruling, the Connecticut Supreme Court held on Jan. 15 that a city tax assessor must comply with the state’s open records laws and provide access to the city’s motor vehicle tax records.

In 1999, Barbara Brennan, an insurance investigator, visited the tax assessor’s office in Bridgeport and asked to inspect motor vehicle tax records for 1997 and 1998. Her request was denied.

Tax Assessor Pamela Davis claimed she was prohibited from disclosing motor vehicle information contained in the records under both the federal Drivers Privacy Protection Act and a state statute prohibiting the release of personal information.

Brennan filed a complaint with the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission, a state agency created to handle appeals for denied requests. After an administrative hearing, a commission officer found that Davis violated the Connecticut Freedom of Information laws by denying Brennan access to the motor vehicle tax records. The commission affirmed the officer’s decision and ordered Davis to comply and allow Brennan to inspect the records.

Davis challenged the commission’s decision and appealed to the Superior Court of Connecticut.

Judge Lois Tanzer found that Davis, as the city tax assessor, was not the legal custodian of the Department of Motor Vehicle records and that the exceptions within the open records laws did not refer to prohibitions against disclosure under the Drivers Privacy Protection Act or under a state statute against the release of personal information.

“[I]f the legislature had intended to restrict access to the name, address, and ownership information provided to tax assessors by the department of motor vehicles . . . it would have done so explicitly and specifically,” Tanzer wrote in her decision.

The judge affirmed the commission’s decision and held that nothing in the Drivers Privacy Protection Act prohibited the tax assessor from disclosing the information contained in the motor vehicle records and that the tax assessor violated the provisions of the Connecticut Freedom of Information laws by failing to provide Brennan with access to them. The tax assessor’s claim was dismissed.

The state supreme court in a three-paragraph decision released on Jan. 15 affirmed Tanzer’s ruling.

(Davis v. Freedom of Information Commission) MM


© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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