Nevada PERS records suit sent back to district court
CARSON CITY, Nev. — The Public Employees Retirement System’s legal battle to prevent public disclosure of what retirees make has been sent back to Carson District Judge James Wilson.
Five years ago, the Supreme Court ruled the records of just retiree names and the amount of their retirement checks were public because the information was part of an existing report generated within PERS.
But PERS changed its reporting system and now argues its computer system may not be able to produce that information.
PERS officials argued the report no longer contains the names of government retirees, only redacted Social Security numbers and the system has no duty to create a new document to satisfy the Nevada Policy Research Institute.
NPRI sued and Judge Wilson agreed the names of retirees, their years of service, gross pension benefit and last employer aren’t confidential. He ordered PERS to create a document containing the information requested by NPRI, which posts the data on its Transparent Nevada website for the public to view.
In a 4-3 ruling issued Oct. 18, the high court agreed and ordered the case sent back to Wilson “to determine an appropriate way for PERS to comply with the request.”
PERS appealed to the Supreme Court arguing that decision violates the holding in the case five years ago clearly stated there’s no requirement for an agency to create new or customized reports for public consumption.
The Oct. 18 ruling states the information requested hasn’t been declared confidential by statute and the information sought is released to an outside third party for evaluation, “which made the information clearly available outside of an individual’s file.”
Justices Michael Douglas, Michael Cherry, Mark Gibbons and Kris Pickering pointed out PERS simply removed names from the spreadsheet transferred to the actuary, preventing NPRI from matching the recipient to his or her retirement benefit. PERS officials argued since the names are no longer part of that report, those names are confidential.
The majority wrote the NPRI request doesn’t require PERS to create a new record, just that PERS search its own database to collect the names sought.
“We conclude that searching PERS electronic database for existing and non-confidential information is not the creation of a new record,” the opinion states.
They sent the case back to Wilson to evaluate PERS claims the system may no longer be able to obtain that information by such a search. Instead they ordered Wilson to sort that out and determine whether it would cost money to generate what NPRI wants.
The dissent authored by Justices Lidia Stiglich, Jim Hardesty and Ron Parraguirre charges the majority ruling punches a hole in the case from five years ago.