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Comptroller of Treasury v. Immanuel

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

January 29, 2014

COMPTROLLER OF the TREASURY
v.
Henry IMMANUEL.

Motion to Redact Denied March 27, 2014.

Page 879

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 880

Donald K. Krohn (Douglas F. Gansler, Attorney General, on the brief), Baltimore, MD, for Appellant.

Deborah A. Ullman, Pocomoke City, MD, for Appellee.

Panel: KRAUSER, C.J., MATRICCIANI and NAZARIAN, JJ.

NAZARIAN, J.

[216 Md.App. 261] The Maryland Uniform Disposition of Abandoned Property Act [1] (THE " ABANDONED Property act" ) directs the Comptroller of the Treasury (" Comptroller" ) to maintain a division for managing unclaimed property. The Abandoned Property Act renders the Comptroller the legal custodian of millions of dollars' worth of unclaimed property, including stocks, bonds, savings accounts, security deposits, contents of safe deposit [216 Md.App. 262] boxes, insurance proceeds, and other valuables that are reported as unclaimed by banks and other financial institutions.[2]

Henry Immanuel is engaged in the business of locating the owners of unclaimed property held by the Comptroller and, then, for a fee, reuniting them with their former possessions. To further his business, Mr. Immanuel asked the Comptroller, under the Public Information Act,[3] to produce to him a list of the names and addresses of those entitled to the 5,000 most valuable property accounts, " formatted from largest account values to smallest account values," but excluding the precise value of each item. The Comptroller denied his request on the ground that the request would require him to disclose the " financial information" of property owners to a third party. In the circuit court, the Comptroller also argued that producing the data as Mr. Immanuel requested would require the Comptroller to " create" a new record, which the Public Information Act does not require him to do.

Mr. Immanuel filed a petition for judicial review of the Comptroller's decision in the Circuit Court for Wicomico County. After a hearing, the circuit court decided that Mr. Immanuel's request should have been granted and ordered that the Comptroller " provide the unclaimed property records in the manner requested." The Comptroller appeals, renewing his claims that the request would require the Comptroller to " create" a new public record and require the Comptroller to disclose the financial information of property owners to third parties. We disagree with the Comptroller that Mr. Immanuel's request compels the Comptroller to " create" a new public

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record, and we hold that, in light of the Abandoned Property Act, the request seeks information that the Comptroller is required to disclose. That said, we also hold that a list sorted by dollar value would reveal additional individual financial information Mr. Immanuel is not entitled to have, and we find [216 Md.App. 263] that his request may be overbroad in one other way as well. So although Mr. Immanuel is entitled to the bulk of the information he has requested, we reverse the judgment of the circuit court and remand for further proceedings for the limited purpose of determining the precise scope and format of the list the Comptroller must produce.

I. BACKGROUND

In his role as legal custodian of millions of dollars' worth of unclaimed property, the Comptroller enters and stores in a database information regarding the property he is holding and who might be entitled to claim it. As the Comptroller receives each piece of abandoned property, his staff logs data about the property, its value, and the likely owner into the Comptroller's database. The Comptroller is required by the Abandoned Property Act to publish annually, in local newspapers, the names and last known addresses of those individuals who appear to be the owners of property valued at $100 or more, [4] although the published list does not disclose either the nature of unclaimed items of property or their value.

Mr. Immanuel is a " tracer," someone who locates the owners of unclaimed property held by the Comptroller and, for a fee, assists those people in obtaining their property. On November 3, 2011, Mr. Immanuel sent a letter to the Comptroller requesting " a printout of all unclaimed property accounts" that had been unclaimed for two years or longer. In [216 Md.App. 264] addition to requesting publicly available information— specifically, the names and last-known addresses of those entitled to the property— he asked the Comptroller to format the list " from largest account values to smallest account values" and to provide him " with the listing of the top 5,000 accounts after this formatting is done." In his request, Mr. Immanuel acknowledged that the Public Information Act prohibited him from receiving " information concerning the specific value of each account or a description of the property," and he asked that, once the list was sorted, the specific values be removed. Although the Comptroller, with the help of his information technology (" IT" ) department, has the ability to perform Mr. Immanuel's request, the Comptroller denied it.

Since 1978, Mr. Immanuel has submitted requests asking for lists of names and addresses sorted by value. The Comptroller granted those requests until 1992. That year, however, the Attorney General issued an opinion stating that the Public Information Act prohibited the Comptroller from disclosing the monetary value of

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individual items of unclaimed property to members of the public.[5] Mr. Immanuel, nonetheless, made five other requests in the years since, all five of which, ...


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