Agency-Issued Phone Numbers and Email Addresses of DPW Caseworkers are Exempt from Public Disclosure Under the Right-to-Know Law

The Commonwealth Court has reaffirmed that individually assigned phone numbers and email addresses issued by government agencies to government employees are not public records.  Dep’t of Public Welfare v. Clofine, 706 C.D. 2013 (Pa.Cmwlth. 11/27/13)(unpublished memorandum opinion).  In Clofine, the requester submitted a request to DPW for the names and direct phone numbers of the income maintenance caseworkers in the Adams County Assistance Office and for the direct phone number and email address for one identified caseworker.  DPW released the names of the caseworkers, but denied the request for agency-issued phone numbers and email addresses pursuant to the exemption for “personal identification information” under Section 708(b)(6)(i)(A) of the RTKL.  The OOR reversed the denial, reasoning that a public employee’s direct-dial agency-issued telephone number and email address are not “personal” identifiers to which the employee has a vested interest in its personal and confidential nature.

DPW appealed to the Commonwealth Court, which reversed the OOR’s Final Determination.   During the pendency of DPW’s appeal, the Commonwealth Court issued rulings in Office of the Lieutenant Governor v. Mohn, 67 A.3d 123 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2013)(en banc), and Office of the Governor v. Raffle, 67 A.3d 1105)(Pa.Cmwlth. 2013)(en banc).[1]  Mohn held that the Lieutenant Governor’s secondary email address was not a public record because, while used to conduct agency business, the secondary email address was personal to the Lieutenant Governor.  Raffle held that the direct-dial telephone numbers for employees in the Governor’s Officer were exempt from public disclosure.  The Clofine court found that the holdings in Mohn and Raffle were applicable to Mr. Clofine’s request for the agency-issued phone numbers and email address of DPW caseworkers.

In spite of the resources the Commonwealth executive agencies have devoted to denying the public access to contact information to the state’s executive-level officials and employees, the Department of General Services still publishes an online telephone directory for Commonwealth employees, which contains the direct-dial for most non-executive level employees.  Most local agencies also provide on-line and/or printed directories with the telephone numbers of their employees.  In addition, the Court’s expansive reading of § 708(b)(6)(i)(A), which protects “personal identification information” including “personal” telephone numbers and “personal” email addresses, continues to be questionable.

State Representative John Maher, R-Allegheny, proposed legislation to abrogate the Raffle and Mohn decisions.  According to an article by PennLive reporter Jan Murphy, Maher said “It’s common sense that [government-issued landline phone numbers and email addresses] should not be restricted from the public.”  State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, then a state representative, also agreed any government-issued landline phone number and email address should be subject to public disclosure.  To date, however, the General Assembly has not amended the law.

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.

[1] The author of this blog was co-counsel for Mr. Mohn and Mr. Raffle.

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