Commonwealth Court: Present All Evidence to the OOR

Office of Open Records LogoIn a ruling earlier this week, the Commonwealth Court made it clear to agencies subject to Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law that when an appeal is filed with the Office of Open Records, the agency should present all of its evidence to the OOR.

The case, Pennsylvania Department of Health et al v. Wallace McKelvey and PennLive, focused on applications submitted to DOH under Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana law. (Here’s the complete OOR docket.)

DOH and the companies which submitted the applications asked the Court to allow them to supplement the record with additional information which was not presented to the OOR. The Court denied the request:

“To the extent the record developed before OOR is inadequate, DOH and Permittees are at fault for that inadequacy. Lack of evidence, when the parties and participants had a full opportunity to submit evidence to the fact-finder, is not a valid reason for supplementing the record.”

Using logic that could also be adopted by Courts of Common Pleas, the Court said:

“Moreover, allowing additional evidence at the judicial review stage has implications beyond the present matter. To ensure the RTKL offers an expedient means of access to public records, parties withholding information must be held to their burden of proof. Accepting additional evidence without cause essentially allows agencies to withhold records without legal grounds until reaching a Chapter 13 court, undermining the presumption of openness that forms the foundation of the current RTKL.”

In the decision’s conclusion, the Court wrote:

“OOR afforded extraordinary due process to DOH and Permittees, including multiple opportunities to submit evidence supporting their redactions. DOH and Mission offer no reason for not submitting the evidence they want to submit to this Court during that process. Therefore, we deny their applications for relief seeking to supplement the record.”

On an unrelated point in the same decision, the Court explicitly held that “corporate information is not protected under an individual’s right to privacy” under the state constitution.

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