This year, at least two Pennsylvania courts have ordered government agencies to pay a requester’s legal fees after the agency was found to have been acting in bad faith under the Right-to-Know Law.
The first case (OOR Docket 2017-0994) began with a March 2017 request for records relating to a waste water plant construction project in Reading. After the city invoked a 30-day extension to respond, the request was deemed denied. The requester appealed to the Office of Open Records. The city, which bears the burden of proof under the RTKL, did not make any submissions during the appeal.
In a subsequent appeal also involving Reading (OOR Docket 2018-0244), the OOR found that, “Since January 2017, the OOR has granted eleven other appeals wherein the City invoked a thirty-day extension but ultimately did not respond to the Request or participate on appeal. … [T]he City has repeatedly ignored requests for records and not participated before the OOR. Based on the City’s failure to comply with its statutorily mandated duties under the RTKL, the OOR finds that the City acted in bad faith in the present matter by engaging in the same conduct.”
In August 2018, Judge James M. Lillis of the Berks County Court of Common Pleas ordered the city to pay $12,071.75 in legal fees to the requester.
The second case (OOR Docket 2014-1695) began with a 2014 request for records related to illnesses contracted by inmates and staff members at the state prison in Fayette.
In March 2018, Judge Robert Simpson of the Commonwealth Court ruled that “some of [the Department of Corrections’] noncompliance [with an OOR order] constitutes bad faith that merits statutory sanctions.”
In October 2018, Judge Simpson ordered DOC to pay $118,458.37 in legal fees to the requester.