West Chester University v. Browne
Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
No. 1321 C.D. 2012
June 19, 2013
The Commonwealth Court held that benefits plans that a government contractor provided to its employees were not subject to disclosure under the Right to Know Law, as they did not relate to the government activity performed by the contractor and were not “created, received, or retained” by the government agency.
Timothy Browne, the business representative for a union, submitted a request to West Chester University seeking all benefits plans of a private contractor hired by the University to perform electrical work. The University denied the request, stating that it did not possess the records Browne requested.
Browne appealed to the Office of Open Records, which granted the request and ordered the disclosure of the benefits plan information. The OOR determined that the contract between the University and contractor mentioned “fringe benefits.” As a result, the OOR reasoned, the benefits plans were related to the government contract and were public records. The University appealed.
Commonwealth Court Decision
The Commonwealth Court explained that a document is considered a “record” under the RTKL if it meets two criteria: First, it “must document a transaction or activity of the agency.” Secondly, it must be “created, received, or retained” by the agency “pursuant to law or in connection with a transaction, business, or activity” of the agency. (To meet this second criteria, the document also can be “created by a private contractor in connection with its contractual obligations to the agency.”)
Here, the Court determined that neither part of the test was met. The benefits plans did not document any “transaction or activity” of the University. Likewise, the benefit plans were not “created, received, or retained” by the University. The benefit plans related only to the relationship between the contractor and its employees and were not created in connection with the contractor’s work for the University. Therefore, the Court ruled that the benefits plans were not considered records under the RTKL.