Agencies are Bound by Reasons Stated in Initial Denial of RTKL Requests

In an opinion released today, the Commonwealth Court held that an agency which denies a request for records under the new Right-to-Know Law is bound by the reasons the agency states in the initial denial letter to the requester.  An agency is prohibited from asserting a different legal ground to support the denial after the requester appeals to the Office of Open Records.

Commonwealth Court Senior Judge Rochelle S. Friedman explained:

Section 903(2) of the [Right-to-Know] Law requires that a denial of a right-to-know request include the “specific reasons for the denial, including a citation of supporting legal authority.”  65 P.S. §67.903(2).  Section 1102(a)(1) of the [Right-to-Know] Law states that an appeal to the OOR “shall address any grounds stated by the agency for . . . denying the request.”  65 P.S. §67.1101(a)(1) . . .  [S]ection 1102(a) of the [Right-to-Know] Law does not permit an agency that has given a specific reason for a denial to assert a different reason on appeal.

Signature Information Solutions, LLC, v. Aston Township, – – – A.2d – – – -, slip opinion p. 6-7 (Pa.Cmwlth.2010).

Signature Information Solutions, LLC, was represented by Craig J. Staudenmaier and Joshua D. Bonn, members of Nauman Smith’s Right-to-Know and Media Law practice group.

Disclaimer:  This blog is maintained by the members of Nauman Smith’s Media and Right-to-Know Law practice group.  The members of this practice group represent both: 1) media entities, individuals and corporations seeking access to public records, and 2) local municipalities seeking to comply with the law.  THIS BLOG IS NOT MEANT TO BE USED AS LEGAL ADVICE.  The purpose of this blog is to provide educational material for individuals interested in Pennsylvania’s open records law, commonly referred to as the “Right-to-Know Law” or “RTKL”.  The opinions expressed by the individual members of the practice group are solely their own, and do not reflect the opinions of Nauman, Smith, Shissler & Hall, LLP, or the practice group as a whole.

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