Argued: May 9, 2016
Court for Wicomico County Case No. 22-C-12-000750
Barbera, C.J., Greene, Adkins, Watts, Battaglia, Lynne A.
(Retired, Specially Assigned) Raker, Irma S. (Retired,
Specially Assigned), Wilner Alan M. (Retired, Specially
issued a writ of certiorari in this case to decide
primarily whether the Maryland Public Information Act and the
Uniform Disposition of Abandoned Property Act require the
Comptroller of Maryland to withhold certain information about
accounts held in the database of abandoned property accounts.
petition for certiorari presented the following
"1. Does the prohibition against providing financial
information in response to Public Information Act requests
prohibit disclosure of information concerning comparative
values when interpreted in light of the legislative scheme
and purpose of the Abandoned Property Act?
2.Was it proper for the Court of Special Appeals to affirm
the modifications of Petitioner's Public Information Act
request, as to number and age of accounts, and thus interfere
with Petitioner's ability to profit from his work?
3.Was it proper for the Court of Special Appeals to affirm
the Circuit Court's vacating its earlier sealing of the
case to protect Petitioner's trade secret?"
shall hold that the Maryland Public Information Act prohibits
disclosure of information that reveals the comparative value
of abandoned property accounts, and shall affirm. Because we
affirm, the issue of sealing the case is moot.
case has a long history in the courts and administrative
agencies in Maryland. The case centers around
petitioner's November 3, 2011 written request for
information under the Maryland Public Information Act
(hereinafter "MPIA"), Maryland Code (2014), §
4-101 et seq. of the General Provisions Article
("GP"),  related to the value of unclaimed property
accounts in the custody of the Comptroller of Maryland.
Petitioner requested a list of the names and addresses of
individuals with the 5, 000 largest accounts of unclaimed
property, ordered from the largest value to the smallest.
Based upon the Comptroller's interpretation of the
statute that the requested information was prohibited under
the MPIA, the Comptroller denied the request on the grounds
that the records contained "information about the
finances of an individual, including assets, income,
liabilities, net worth, bank balances, financial history or
activities, or creditworthiness." GP § 4-336(b).
filed a petition for judicial review in the Circuit Court for
Wicomico County. He filed a motion to seal the case record on
the grounds that the record contained his trade secret (his
technique for soliciting the information in question in this
case), which the Circuit Court granted. The Circuit Court
ordered the Comptroller to disclose the requested records in
value order as petitioner requested, and the Comptroller
appealed to the Court of Special Appeals. The Court of
Special Appeals affirmed in part, and reversed in part.
Comptroller of Treasury v. Immanuel, 216 Md.App.
259, 85 A.3d 878 (2014) (Immanuel I). The Court of
Special Appeals held that Mr. Immanuel was entitled to a list
of claims, but not sorted by value. Id. at 274, 85
A.3d at 887. The court remanded the case to the Circuit
Court, "for the limited purpose of allowing the circuit
court to determine the precise boundaries of the production
the Comptroller must make to Mr. Immanuel, " concluding
that "Mr. Immanuel should emerge on remand with a list
of claims that tracks the Comptroller's disclosure
obligations under the Abandoned Property Act, but that is not
sorted by dollar value." Id. at 275, 85 A.3d at
remand, the Circuit Court ordered petitioner to submit a
modified MPIA request, limited to accounts received by the
Comptroller within 365 days with a value of $100 or greater,
without any sorting by value or other financial information.
Upon the Comptroller's request, the Circuit Court vacated
its order to seal the case. Mr. Immanuel appealed to the
Court of Special Appeals, which affirmed the Circuit Court,
holding that the Circuit Court did not err or abuse the
discretion delegated to it, as "its order properly
tracks the Comptroller's disclosure obligations under the
Abandoned Property Act, and thus complies with our
instructions to that court." Immanuel v. Comptroller
of Treasury, 225 Md.App. 581, 594, 126 A.3d 196, 203
(2015) (Immanuel II). The court agreed with the
Circuit Court that extracting "a list of any specific
number of claims [i.e. extracting the most valuable
5, 000 accounts] ranked or identified by value is barred from
disclosure by the MPIA, as limited by the Abandoned Property
Act, because releasing such information would reveal the
relative value of such claims in comparison with other claims
in the Comptroller's possession, which would constitute
disclosure of individual financial information."
Id. at 595, 126 A.3d at 204.
granted a writ of certiorari to consider the issues
presented. Immanuel v. Comptroller of Maryland, 446
Md. 218, 130 A.3d 507 (2016).
MPIA gives the public the right to broad disclosure of
government or public documents with exemptions for specific
kinds of information. GP § 4-101, et seq. The
Act describes the general right to information as follows:
"(a) All persons are entitled to have access to
information about the affairs of government and the official
acts of public officials and employees.
(b) To carry out the right set forth in subsection (a) of
this section, unless an unwarranted invasion of the privacy
of a person in interest would result, this title shall be
construed in favor of allowing inspection of a public record,
with the least cost and least delay to the person or
governmental unit that requests the inspection."
GP § 4-103. We construe the MPIA liberally to effectuate
the Act's broad remedial purpose. A.S. Abell Pub. Co.
v. Mezzanote, 297 Md. 26, 32, 464 A.2d 1068, 1071
(1983). The MPIA defines "public record" as
"the original or any copy of any documentary material
that: (I) is made by a unit or an instrumentality of the
State or of a political subdivision or received by the unit
or instrumentality in connection with the transaction of
public business . . . ." GP § 4-101(j)(1).
State must disclose certain records unless the requested
records are within the scope of a statutory exemption.
Faulk v. State's Att'y for Harford Cty., 299
Md. 493, 506-07, 474 A.2d 880, 887 (1984). Section 4-103(b)
of the MPIA provides that records should be withheld if
"an unwarranted invasion of the privacy of a person in
interest would result . . . ." The MPIA is clear that
"[u]nless otherwise provided by law, a custodian shall
deny inspection of a public record, as provided in this
part." GP § 4-304. Sections 4-328-342 of the MPIA
sets out required denials for specific information-exemptions
to the general policy of disclosure of public records. The
exemptions are categories of documents and information
"that the statute mandatorily instructs a custodian to
deny, or permit, inspection." Univ. Sys. of Maryland
v. Baltimore Sun Co., 381 Md. 79, 88, 847 A.2d 427, 432
(2004). Importantly, the express exemptions set out in the
statute, "are intended to address the reasonable
expectation of privacy that a person in interest has in
certain types of records identified by the Legislature."
Id. at 99-100, 847 A.2d at 439. The prohibition
against disclosing financial information is codified in GP
§ 4-336, which reads as follows:
"(a) This section does not apply to the salary of a
(b)Subject to subsection (c) of this section, a custodian
shall deny inspection of the part of a public record that
contains information about the finances of an individual,
including assets, income, liabilities, net worth, bank
balances, financial history or activities, or
(c)A custodian shall allow inspection by the person in
Uniform Disposition of Abandoned Property Act (hereinafter
"Abandoned Property Act"), Maryland Code (1990),
§ 17-301, et. seq. of the Commercial Law
Article ("CL"), provides that "[e]very person
holding funds or other tangible or intangible property
presumed abandoned under this subtitle shall report to the
Administrator with respect to the property as provided in
this section." CL § 17-310. In Maryland,
"abandoned property" is defined as tangible and
intangible personal property considered abandoned under the
title. CL § 17-101(b)(1). The Comptroller is the
Administrator under the Abandoned Property Act. CL §
17-101(c). After reporting the property to the Comptroller,
the property holder must then deliver the abandoned property
to the Comptroller, CL § 17-312, who acts as custodian
for the owner. CL § 17-313. The Abandoned Property Unit
of the ...