2017 was the third-busiest year ever for the Office of Open Records in terms of the number of Right-to-Know Law appeals filed. In addition, the appeals continued to grow in complexity, with more sophisticated arguments being made and more nuanced issues being presented in many cases.
Nearly two-thirds (63.5%) of all appeals filed in 2017 were filed by everyday citizens. They were followed by:
- Inmates, 18.4%
- Companies, 10.1%
- Media, 6.3%
- Government officials, 1.6%
This information is from the OOR’s 2017 Annual Report.
The Office of Open Records has produced four videos, all available at our new YouTube channel.
These videos describe some of the basics of Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law.
Introduction to Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law:
How to File a Request Under PA’s Right-to-Know Law:
How to Respond to a Request Under PA’s Right-to-Know-Law:
How to File an Appeal Under PA’s Right-to-Know-Law:
We plan to produce more videos in the future. If you have suggestions on topics you’d like to see covered, please contact the Office of Open Records or post a comment below.
A total of 1,146 appeals were filed with the Office of Open Records in the first half of 2016. Here’s the monthly breakdown:
- January – 122
- February – 317
- March – 184
- April – 141
- May – 198
- June – 184
That’s the second-busiest first half of the year ever at the OOR. Here’s a comparison of appeals filed in the first six months of each year the OOR has existed:
- 2016 (Jan. to June) – 1,146
- 2015 (Jan. to June) – 1,181
- 2014 (Jan. to June) – 1,017
- 2013 (Jan. to June) – 1,129
- 2012 (Jan. to June) – 1,064
- 2011 (Jan. to June) – 908
- 2010 (Jan. to June) – 601
- 2009 (Jan. to June) – 560
Appeals filed with the Office of Open Records can be grouped into six categories:
Requesters obviously gain access to records when appeals are granted. Less obvious is that they often gain access when appeals are withdrawn (only the requester can withdraw an appeal) or found to be moot (usually because records were provided during the appeal).
The most common reason appeals are dismissed is that they’re filed too early or too late. (Appeals filed too early can be refiled.) Appeals are transferred when the OOR isn’t the proper venue for an appeal (e.g., appeals involving a judicial office or statewide row office ).
The pie graph below shows the results of all non-inmate appeals filed in 2015 as of March 1, 2016.
The complete Office of Open Records 2015 Annual Report is available on our website (along with previous years).
A total of 122 appeals were filed in January. That’s far below the 239 filed in December (which set a record for December) or the 353 filed in October (our all-time single month record) — but it’s right in line with the average number of appeals filed in January. (From 2009 through 2015, an average of 124.6 appeals were filed in January.)
It’s far too early to know what the year ahead holds, of course, but January tends to be a low-volume month. From 2009 to 2015, fewer appeals were filed in January than any other month. (February was only slightly higher; the numbers go up significantly in March through December.)
It’s hard to say why this is, but my working theory is that it relates to the holiday season — if fewer requests are filed in late November through early January, it would make logical sense that the OOR would receive fewer appeals in January and February.
The Office of Open Records saw record-setting levels of appeals filed throughout 2015, and December was no exception. 239 appeals were filed in December — more than were filed in any previous December.
The OOR received a total of 2,926 appeals in 2015. That’s 448 more appeals than were received in 2013, the previous record. Here’s an updated look at how many appeals have been received by the OOR each year:
- 2015: 2,926
- 2014: 2,016
- 2013: 2,478
- 2012: 2,188
- 2011: 1,772
- 2010: 1,228
- 2009: 1,155
I’ve started working on the OOR’s 2015 Annual Report, which I expect to include a lot more statistics. If there’s anything specific you’d like me to try and include in the annual report, let me know. Post a comment below or on Twitter (@ErikOpenRecords or @OpenRecordsPA), or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
When you submit a request under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law, it’s very important that you keep a copy of the request. (An electronic copy is fine.)
This is important because if you’re denied access to records and decide to file an appeal with the Office of Open Records, you’ll need to provide four things:
- A copy of the Right-to-Know request;
- A copy of the Agency’s response (unless the request was “deemed denied,” meaning the Agency didn’t respond at all);
- A written statement explaining the grounds on which the requester asserts that the record is a public record; and
- A written statement addressing any grounds stated by the agency for denying the request.
If the case is appealed beyond the OOR (to a Court of Common Pleas or to Commonwealth Court), the OOR is required to provide a certified copy of the full record, which must include all four of those items.
By the way, the best way to file an appeal with the OOR is to use our Appeal Form, which can be downloaded in PDF or Word format. We’ve designed the form to be as simple and user-friendly as possible.