Appraisals For State Land Swap Were Properly Withheld Under FOIA
Nothing in Connecticut General Statutes §1-210(b)(7) requires a real estate appraisal to be of the property that an agency intends to acquire for the exemption to apply. Ed Schwing and the Haddam Bulletin appealed to the Freedom of Information Commission alleging that the respondents, including the commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, violated the Freedom of Information Act by denying the complainants' request for copies of real estate appraisals for properties involved in the "Haddam land swap." The FOIC found that the land swap was a proposed transaction whereby the state would exchange a 17-acre parcel it owned on the Connecticut River with an 87-acre parcel owned by a private developer. The respondents denied the request claiming that C.G.S. §1-210(b)(7) exempted the records from disclosure. The FOIC found that the General Assembly authorized the proposed land transaction on the condition that the exchange was for equal value with fair market values determined by the average of the appraisals of two independent appraisers. The respondents received the appraisal reports in Dec. 2011 and negotiated various aspects of the appraisals with the developer for several months. The appraisals valued the state's 17-acre parcel much higher than the developer's parcel. As a result, the developer declined to pursue the land swap and notified the respondents of its decision on April 3, 2012. The respondents publicly disclosed the appraisals on a website on April 4, 2012. The complainants unsuccessfully contended, inter alia, that the appraisal of the 17-acre property was not exempt from disclosure because it was property already owned by the State. Nothing in the statute, however, requires the appraisal to be of the property that an agency intends to acquire. The appraisal of the 17-acre property was "relative to the acquisition of [the 87-acre] property," within the meaning of C.G.S. §1-210(b)(7). The respondents were entitled to rely on the exemption when all elements of the statute were satisfied. C.G.S. §1-210(b)(7) exempted the appraisal from disclosure until April 3, 2012 when the transaction was abandoned. The respondents did not violate the FOIA as alleged and the complaint was dismissed.