Iowa judges rule owners can exclude names from online searches

DES MOINES — Landlords who request to remove their names from online real estate searches to conceal their address can keep their names confidential under an Iowa Supreme Court ruling released Friday.

Des Moines Register reporter Clark Kauffman filed a complaint with the Iowa Board of Public Information against Polk County Assessor Randy Ripperger in 2017 after Ripperger refused to release a list of people who had requested that their name be removed from the online search by county name. database.

The list includes police officers, prosecutors, judges and victims of crime who wish to prevent criminals or stalkers from knowing where they live. There are over 3,500 owners on the list.

Kauffman accused Ripperger of violating the state’s open archives law by refusing to provide the list of names.

Kauffman told a hearing that he asked for the list of names of people with disabilities to determine who is joining the policy and whether promoters, landlords or sleep owners are trying to keep their names safe from public disclosure.

The board, which under Iowa law has the authority to enforce the state’s open archives law, found in 2018 that Ripperger violated the law. An administrative law judge and a state court judge upheld that finding, and Ripperger appealed.

The Supreme Court justices found that the list of names fell within an exception authorized by the legislature in state law. The Open Archives Act provides for the confidentiality of communications with a government agency by private citizens outside the government who would not have made the communication had they known it would be made public.

The court found that the list was a public document, but fell within the exception to disclosure as a communication intended to be confidential.

“Communications requesting removal of the search by name reviewer function are helpful in promoting public safety, especially for people in risky occupations or victims of domestic violence who wish to make it more difficult for abusers potentials to locate their home address,” the opinion said. .

“Where, as here, the custodian of the record could reasonably believe that disclosure of the list would deter such communications, that decision should be upheld, not challenged, even if others might reasonably disagree with the custodian” , the court said.

The court sent the case back to council to determine who falls under the law as being “outside government” to determine whether some names may not fit the exception to the law.

Justice Thomas Waterman wrote the opinion, which was supported by Chief Justice Susan Christensen and Justice Dana Oxley. Three judges did not review the case and Judge Edward Mansfield disagreed.

Mansfield said in a dissenting opinion that the 2012 law creating the council gives it the power to interpret the Open Archives Act and that the court should show deference to that authority.

Citing the language of the Public Records Act, he wrote that “free and open examination of public records is generally in the public interest even though such examination may cause inconvenience or embarrassment to public officials or to others”.

About Michael B. Billingsley

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