State and county tax officials must turn over computerized tax assessment data to the public or business owners, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The court overturned a January 2013 ruling in Kanawha County Circuit Court finding that computer-assisted mass appraisal files used by county assessors to help determine home values were exempt from disclosure under the state Freedom of Information Act. State and county tax officials argued that the data included sensitive information that might include whether a homeowner had a burglar alarm, whether a home was vacant because the homeowner was in a nursing home or other private information.
Roger Hurlbert, owner of Sage Information Services, originally went to court after the state Tax Commission refused to turn over the computerized data. State tax officials argued they were not the custodians of the records under the Freedom of Information Act.
However, the Supreme Court found that the state tax commissioner's office had access to the computerized data, and that either the state tax office or a county assessor's office could be considered custodians of the records under FOIA.
The Supreme Court also found that, while some of the information contained in the computerized assessment files was private and sensitive, and therefore exempt from disclosure, public bodies have a duty to redact exempt information out of public documents and disclose the rest.
The court ruled that Kanawha Circuit Judge Charlie King made a mistake in finding that everything in the computerized assessment files was exempt from disclosure under FOIA. In its Thursday ruling, the Supreme Court overturned King's decision and sent the case back to circuit court to figure out what information contained in the files was exempt, and what information had to be released to the public.
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