Scott v. Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission
Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
Nos. 1553 C.D. 2011, 1666 C.D. 2011
October 3, 2012
The Commonwealth Court determined that the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (“DVRPC”) is not a commonwealth agency and, as a result, is not subject to the Right to Know Law (“RTKL”).
John Scott requested all DVRPC emails to and from certain email addresses. The DVRPC denied the request stating that it was overly broad and that the records were exempt as internal predecisional deliberations. Scott appealed to the OOR.
In its final determination, the OOR stated that it had jurisdiction to hear Scott’s appeal because it previously had ruled that the DVRPC is a commonwealth agency and thus subject to the RTKL. The OOR then ordered the disclosure of some of the requested records, concluding that the remaining records were exempt. The DVRPC appealed to the Commonwealth Court.
Commonwealth Court decision
On appeal, the DVRPC argued that the court did not have jurisdiction because the DVRPC is not a commonwealth agency.
In response, Scott contended that this issue had already been resolved by the OOR in an earlier appeal under the new RTKL involving the DVRPC, and that the OOR had ruled DVRPC was a commonwealth agency in that case. Scott argued that decision barred DVRPC from litigating the same issue in a different case under a doctrine known as “collateral estoppel,” which prevents “relitigation of an issue in a later action, despite the fact that the later action is based on a cause of action different from the one previously litigated.”
The court rejected this argument, explaining that a decision of the OOR cannot bind the Commonwealth Court.
The Commonwealth Court then examined whether the DVRPC was a commonwealth agency under the RTKL. Under the law, a commonwealth agency is defined to include executive branch offices, such as the governor’s office, Office of Attorney General, Department of the Auditor General, and Treasury Department, as well as independent agencies and organizations “established by the Constitution of Pennsylvania, a statute or an executive order which perform, or is intended to perform, an essential government function.”
Because the DVRPC is not an executive branch office, the court considered whether it was an independent agency. In a case decided under the old RTKL, the Court had determined that the DVRPC did not perform an essential government function. The court stated that it would follow that determination under the new law. As a result, it held that the DVRPC is not a commonwealth agency subject to the RTKL.