Tompkins v. Freedom of Information Commission
The mere fact that the Freedom of Information Act addresses matters that implicate constitutional concerns does not mean that constitutional standards govern the act. Duane Tompkins, a lieutenant with the Enfield police department, deleted personal documents and downloaded certain official forms onto his personal thumb drive for use by another officer. The thumb drive ceased working. A computer technician recovered its various files including those Tompkins erased. Instant message conversations and records tending to demonstrate improper off duty conduct by Tompkins were found. Following an internal affairs investigation, the town and Tompkins entered into an agreement severing his employment. The Journal Inquirer and staff writers, Alexander Wood and Jenna Carlesso, requested all related records and appealed to the Freedom of Information Commission from the town's refusal to disclose requested records. The FOIA reviewed the disputed records in camera consisting of Tompkins' instant message conversations and the internal affairs investigation findings. The FOIC ultimately issued an amended final decision ordering the records disclosed with Tompkins' residential address and certain sexually explicit language redacted. The trial court dismissed Tompkins' appeal. Tompkins appealed contending, inter alia, that the court erred in rejecting his claim of exemption under C.G.S. §1-210(b)(2) because the disclosure of the records would constitute an invasion of his personal privacy. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. Tompkins unsuccessfully contended that in construing and applying the privacy exemption, the commission and court were obligated to consider and to enforce his constitutional right to privacy under the fourth and 14th amendments to the federal constitution. The 1991 Connecticut Supreme Court case of Chairman v. Freedom of Information Commission, cited by the plaintiff, directly contravened his contention. The constitutional inquiry under the fourth and 14th amendments as to the reasonableness of governmental access to private information simply has no bearing on the potential of such information, if disclosed, to offend reasonable persons or to shed light on matters of legitimate public concern, issues considered when evaluating a claimed statutory privacy exemption. The trial court did not err in upholding the commission's decision that the challenged records were not exempt under C.G.S. §1-210(b)(2). Based on the commission's findings, which were well supported by the Appellate Court's review of the records, the commission's determination that the subject records implicated legitimate matters of public concern was supported by substantial evidence.