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Right-to-Know Law Case Summaries

Below are archived summaries of state Commonwealth and Supreme Court rulings impacting the interpretation of Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law. Links to the opinions are included, when available.

We’ve temporarily suspended summarizing these cases. Please check back later for new content.


Open records office granted power to review

The Commonwealth Court ruled that the Office of Open Records has the authority to review records in camera – i.e., outside of the parties’ view – to determine if the records are public under the Right to Know Law.
The court also ruled that the OOR has the ability to assess whether records are protected from disclosure by the attorney-client privilege and the work-product doctrine.


Senate must disclose legal invoice clients, descriptions

The Commonwealth Court ruled that information in legal bills that reflected clients’ names and the description of work done by lawyers paid by the state Senate must be disclosed under the Right to Know Law and is not exempt as attorney work-product, under grand jury secrecy rules, or by the law’s criminal investigation exception.


OOR has authority to interpret federal law under RTKL

The Commonwealth Court held that the Office of Open Records has the authority to interpret federal laws in determining whether a record is public under the Right to Know Law. The Court further held that where a federal statute outlines procedures for granting public access to information, that law does not address whether a record is considered public under the RTKL.


DPW payments to managed care organizations subject to disclosure

The Commonwealth Court ruled that records containing rates paid by the Department of Public Welfare to managed care organizations were subject to disclosure under the Right to Know Law, as they were financial records to which the full list of RTKL exceptions do not apply.
However, the court ruled that records containing rates paid by the MCOs to its subcontractors were protected by the confidential proprietary information and trade secret exception of the RTKL.


Subcontracted dental care rates not public

The Commonwealth Court ruled that records of rates paid by managed care organization subcontractors to dental service providers were not records of the Department of Public Welfare nor were they available to the DPW through third-party contracts. As a result, the records were not subject to disclosure under the Right to Know Law.


State Police may withhold list of police officers

The Commonwealth Court ruled that the Pennsylvania State Police did not need to disclose a list of all of the state’s accredited police officers because it could not determine which of those officers is working undercover without contacting more than 1,100 municipal departments to compile that information. Therefore, the Court held that the requested information is not subject to disclosure under the Right to Know Law.


Courts should review OOR findings and conclusions

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that a court reviewing a final determination of the Office of Open Records need not defer to the OOR’s decision in considering whether an agency properly denied a Right to Know Law request. Instead, courts should broadly review the OOR’s factual findings and legal conclusions, and courts can consider evidence that was not submitted to the OOR in making their decisions.


Agency may argue exemptions if request deemed denied

The Commonwealth Court determined that when an agency fails to respond to a Right to Know Law request within the time mandated under the law, the agency still may argue that the requested records are exempt from disclosure under the RTKL if the requester files an appeal.