Top 10 Right-to-Know Cases of 2016

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, with three newly elected members, issued the most significant public records case since the enactment of the Right-to-Know Law (RTKL) in 2009. Other important issues include police videos, government contractor financial information, and judicial records.

  1. Pennsylvania State Educ. Ass’n v. Commonwealth , Dep’t of Cmty. & Econ. Dev., 148 A.3d 142 (Pa. 2016) (majority opinion by Justice Donahue, joined by Chief Justice Saylor and Justices Baer, Todd, and Dougherty) (concurring opinion by Justice Wecht)*

Supreme Court held the Pennsylvania Constitution provides public school employees with a qualified right to nondisclosure of home addresses. Decision fails to answer whether this newly created constitutional right bans disclosure of numerous historically public records such as property tax records, voter rolls, and building permits.

  1. Commonwealth v. Engelkemier, 148 A.3d 522 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2016) (majority opinion by Judge Brobson, joined by President Judge Leavitt and Judge Covey)

Governor Wolf required to disclose emails of former Chief of Staff, and state Senate candidate Katie McGinty. Request for six months of emails on 109 different subjects was sufficiently specific.

  1. Pennsylvania State Police v. Kim, 150 A.3d 155 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2016)(majority opinion by Judge Simpson, joined by Judge Covey and Wojcik)

State Police permitted to withhold private casino’s surveillance video. RTKL’s broad investigative exemptions make Pennsylvania an outlier for access to police records.

  1. Grine v. Couty of Centre, 138 A.3d 88 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2016) (en banc) (majority opinion by Judge Simpson, joined by President Judge Leavitt, and Judges Brobson, McCullough, and Wojcik)*

Telephone invoices showing calls and texts between District Attorney and judges are financial records subject to public   disclosure.  Judiciary is proper entity to release such records.

  1. Pennsylvania Pub. Util. Comm’n v. Andrew Seder/The Times Leader, 139 A.3d 165 (Pa. 2016) (majority opinion by Justice Baer, joined by Justices Todd, Donohue, and Wecht) (dissenting opinion by Chief Justice Saylor and Justice Dougherty)*

Public Utility Commission (PUC) ordered to disclose documents related to settlement agreement between PUC and PPL Electric Utilities Corporation. Public Utility Code trumps RTKL’s investigative exemption

  1. Glob. Tel*Link Corp. v. Wright, 147 A.3d 978 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2016) (majority opinion by Senior Judge Friedman, joined by President Judge Leavitt and Senior Judge Pellegrini)

Third party vendor’s financial information did not become public record even though it was attached to DOC contract.

  1. Municipality of Mt. Lebanon v. Gillen, 151 A.3d 722 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2016) (majority opinion by Senior Judge Colins, joined by President Judge Leavitt and Judge Cosgrove)

RTKL’s donor exception permitted municipality to withhold emails identifying individuals who participated in municipal deer control program.

  1. McCord v. Pennsylvanians for Union Reform, 136 A.3d 1055 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2016) (majority opinion by Judge Covey, joined by Judges Leadbetter and Brobson)*

Treasurer must disclose executive agency employee list including employee names, dates of birth, counties of residence, positions, and years of service. Administrative Code trumps RTKL’s personal security exception.

  1. Pennsylvania Dep’t of Educ. v. Bagwell, 131 A.3d 638 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2015) (majority opinion by Judge Simpson, joined by Judge Leavitt and Senior Judge Collins) *

Agency may not use prepayment demand as guise to delay processing request. University had constitutional right to intervene outside of RTKL.

  1. Pennsylvania State Sys. of Higher Educ. v. Ass’n of State Coll. & Univ. Faculties, 142 A.3d 1023, 1026 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2016)(majority opinion by Senior Judge Pellegrini, joined by President Judge Leavitt and Senior Judge Friedman).

Request for estimated 5.6 million pages of electronic records over five-year period was sufficiently specific for PASSHE to ascertain responsive records. OOR authorized to grant extension of time for PASSHE to review voluminous amount of responsive records.

    * Nauman Smith’s RTKL practice group represented parties in these appeals.

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