Judge: Agency Had a “Mandatory Duty” to Preserve Records

Office of Open Records LogoJudge James A. Gibbons of Lackawanna County has ordered the City of Scranton to pay $3,484 in legal fees to the Scranton Times-Tribune, finding that the agency had not preserved records requested under the Right-to-Know Law.

The decision, which came after an appeal of the Office of Open Records’ final determination in Lockwood v. City of Scranton (OOR Dkt. No.: AP 2019-0279), was issued yesterday.

Judge Gibbons wrote:

“[T]he City of Scranton does not quarrel that it had a mandatory duty under the [RTKL] to preserve the videotape requested and it further acknowledges its failure to do so. While it may not have been intentional, we must bear in mind the remedial purpose behind the [RTKL], and if that purpose is to be promoted, there need be consequences, even for benign neglect. We will, therefore, award court costs and attorney’s fees to the Plaintiffs.”

Jim Lockwood, a reporter for the Times-Tribune, requested video from surveillance cameras in Scranton City Hall. The city denied the request, stating that the videos were exempt under Section 708(b)(16) of the RTKL, the criminal investigative exemption.

Lockwood appealed the denial to the OOR. During the course of the appeal before the OOR, the city did not present any evidence. The OOR held that the video must be released.

The lesson for agencies is simple: When a RTKL request is received, all potentially responsive records should be maintained throughout the entire RTKL process, including any and all appeals.