Public School Employees Entitled to Notice and Opportunity to be Heard in Home Address Appeals
The Commonwealth Court has declared that public school districts must notify public school employees of right-to-know requests for their home addresses. PSEA, et al., v. Com. of Pennsylvania, 396 M.D. 2009 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2/17/15). Public school employees are entitled to participate in OOR proceedings to demonstrate that disclosure of their home addresses will jeopardize their personal safety. The Commonwealth Court’s order effectively dissolves a preliminary injunction that stayed the release of public school employee home addresses on constitutional grounds, and permanently enjoins school districts and the OOR from disclosing or ordering the disclosure of public school employees’ home addresses unless the employees are provided with notice and opportunity to present evidence of threats to personal safety.
This case began in 2009 when the Pennsylvania School Employees Association (PSEA) brought suit in the original jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Court seeking to enjoin the OOR from ordering school districts to disclose public school employees’ home addresses. The Commonwealth Court entered an order, which, as later modified, stayed the release of records maintained by public school districts which contained public school employees’ home addresses. In 2010, the Commonwealth Court dismissed the PSEA case for lack of jurisdiction, but, in 2012, the Supreme Court remanded the matter back to the Commonwealth Court for further proceedings.
In 2013, the OOR moved to dismiss the PSEA case because the Commonwealth Court had recently issued a number of rulings holding that there is no constitutional right to privacy in one’s home address under the Pennsylvania Constitution. Marin v. Secretary of the Commonwealth, 41 A.3d 913 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2012); Office of Lieutenant Governor v. Mohn, 67 A.3d 123 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2013); Office of Governor v. Raffle, 65 A.3d 1105 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2013). PSEA responded that those cases were wrongly decided, and obtained permission to amend its original suit to add the new argument that public school employees’ have due process rights to notice and opportunity to be heard.
In the latest ruling, the Commonwealth Court dismissed PSEA’s original claims because employees have no constitutional right to privacy in their home addresses. However, the Commonwealth Court granted PSEA’s new claims. Judge Cohn-Jubelirer, writing for the majority of an en banc panel, noted the Supreme Court’s concern that the RTKL does not provide public school employees with a method to challenge the disclosure of their home addresses. The majority held the personal security exception set forth in Section 708(b)(1)(ii) of the RTKL implicitly requires notice and opportunity to be heard for individuals whose home address is subject to disclosure, and that the RTKL violates itself by not providing such mechanism.
Judge Pelligrini, joined by Judge McGinley, dissented on grounds that Section 708(b)(1)(ii) does not provide any property or personal right requiring personal notice before public records are disclosed. He noted home addresses are widely available, and that PSEA was unable to provide one example of harm resulting from the public disclosure of a home address. He warned the majority’s holding will require agencies to provide hundreds of thousands of notices in response to RTKL requests.
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.