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Lamson v. Montgomery County

Court of Appeals of Maryland

July 31, 2018

BERNADETTE FOWLER LAMSON
v.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MD

          Argued: May 7, 2018

          Circuit Court for Montgomery County Case No. 415227

          Barbera, C.J., Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty, JJ.

          OPINION

          HOTTEN, J.

         The issue before us is a request for the release of notes containing possible personnel information, relating to the performance of Bernadette Fowler Lamson ("Petitioner") as an employee of the Montgomery County Attorney's office. Petitioner filed a Maryland Public Information Act ("MPIA")[1] request relative to her personnel file, seeking the disclosure of supervisory notes that were withheld by her employer, Montgomery County ("Respondent") and her supervisor, Silvia Kinch ("Ms. Kinch"). The disputed notes are divisible into two separate categories. The first consists of three pages of notes that were removed from Petitioner's personnel folder prior to its disclosure and the second set consists of notes that are contained in a personal journal in the exclusive possession and control of Ms. Kinch. With regard to both, Petitioner asserts that Respondent improperly withheld the notes when responding to her MPIA request. In response, Respondent contends that the notes are privileged, non-public information. Petitioner now seeks review of the grant of summary judgment in Respondent's favor, to determine whether the disputed notes were subject to disclosure under the MPIA. For the reasons discussed infra, we shall vacate the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals and remand with instructions.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Petitioner was an employee of the Office of the Montgomery County Attorney for over twenty years. During that time, she received "highly successful" reviews and top performance ratings. In 2015, Ms. Kinch downgraded Petitioner's performance rating from "highly successful" to "successful," which prevented her from receiving a 20-year, 2% performance bonus. Prompted by the negative rating, Petitioner requested access to her personnel file on September 1, 2015, which was provided after three pages of supervisory notes were redacted. On October 8, 2015, after receiving this response, Petitioner filed a MPIA request specifying 16 categories of public records, including the missing notes. Specifically, Petitioner requested the following categories of information:

1. Any and all supervisory notes or other materials written, authored or prepared by Silvia Kinch, John Markvos and Marc Hansen;
2. Supervisory notes removed from Ms. Lamson's supervisory file by Ms. Kinch on or about September l, 2015, including all notes removed by Ms. Kinch prior to providing Ms. Lamson a copy of her supervisory file;
3. Any and all investigatory files, inquiries, negative statements, or complaints in which Ms. Lamson is the subject and/or is discussed therein;
4. Ms. Lamson's proposed transfer from full time status to part time status;
5. Ms. Lamson's move from her 4th floor office to a 3rd floor office in the Executive Office Building ("EOB");
6. Ms. Lamson's transfer from the Office of the County Attorney ("OCA") Division of Human Resources to the Division of Finance and Procurement or any other OCA division;
7. Ms. Lamson's removal as counsel to the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service ("MCFRS");
8. Placement of Jodi Schultz or other OCA staff attorney assigned to MCFRS matters - except workers' compensation cases;
9. Ms. Lamson's proposed change in duty assignment from MCFRS to the Animal Matters Hearing Board;
10. Ms. Lamson's FY 2015 performance appraisal;
11.Copy of statement from William "Bill" Scott complaining about Ms. Lamson and all records discussing Mr. Scott's complaints about Ms. Lamson;
12.Any and all e-mails or documents discussing Ms. Lamson between and/or among Marc Hansen, John Markvos, Silvia Kinch, Karen Federman-Henry and Ed Lattner from February 1, 2015 to the present;
13. Any and all e-mails or documents between and/or among Marc Hansen, John Markvos, Silvia Kinch, Ed Lattner, and Assistant Chief Ed Radcliff related to Ms. Lamson's MCFRS representation and/ or agency assignment, duties, and/ or responsibilities;
14.Requests, discussions and/ or inquiries to conduct electronic surveillance and/or tracking on Lamson or other OCA staff members;
15.Any and all data gathered as a result of conducting electronic surveillance and/or tracking of Lamson or other ...

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