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.”
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.”
The training, which will take place from 2:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., will cover Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law (RTKL) and Sunshine Act, including:
An overview of important OOR resources available on the OOR website for both agencies and requesters to help with your RTKL practice.
A review of ethical issues in both the RTKL and the Sunshine Act. This session will discuss the ethical components of both laws and provide practice tips to ensure compliance.
An examination of relevant RTKL case law and notable OOR decisions from the past year. This session will also look at upcoming legal trends as well as proposed OOR regulations and the possible effect both could have on your RTKL practice.
The OOR’s Annual Training is free and open to everyone. (While everyone is welcome to attend, those most likely to benefit include elected and appointed public officials, Agency Open Records Officers, and attorneys who regularly deal with the RTKL and/or the Sunshine Act. The OOR will schedule separate sessions to focus on issues more of interest to requesters, such as this session on Oct. 11, 2018.)
The Annual Training can be attended in person or online via webinar.
This program is pending approval for CLE credit (ethics and regular).
Soon after the event, a video of the training will be available online.