Borough of West Easton v. Mezzacappa
Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
No. 174 C.D. 2013
September 6, 2013
The Commonwealth Court held that a Right to Know Law request is not disruptive merely because a person previously made the same request and the government agency has a small part-time staff.
Tricia Mezzacappa submitted a Right to Know Law request to the Borough of West Easton seeking five categories of documents.
The borough granted the request with respect to one of the five categories, but denied the remainder of her request. The borough stated that Mezzacappa had already requested the other four categories of documents three separate times. And, according to the borough, it had provided her with access to these records, but she failed to review them up each time.
Mezzacappa appealed the denial to the Office of Open Records.
Of the four remaining categories of documents, the OOR determined one was exempt under federal law and ruled that the request for another was disruptive, as it had been the subject of three previous requests.
However, the OOR ruled that the request for the remaining two categories of documents was not disruptive because Mezzacappa had requested them only once before.
The borough appealed that ruling to a county court, which affirmed the OOR’s decision. The borough then appealed to the Commonwealth Court, arguing that the request for the remaining two categories of documents was disruptive.
Commonwealth Court Decision
The RTKL provides that an agency can deny a request if it is disruptive. For a request to be considered disruptive, the requestor must have made repeated requests for the same record and the request must place an unreasonable burden on the agency.
Here, the Commonwealth Court ruled that Mezzacappa’s request was not unreasonably burdensome. The court noted that the borough is a “governmental agency in a constitutionally established representative democracy” and “is in the business of public service.”
According to the court, the fact that the borough has a small part-time staff does not mean that Mezzacappa’s requests were unreasonably burdensome.
The court also reiterated a ruling from a prior decision that the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure do not apply in RTKL appeals.