In this appeal from a determination of the Office of Open Records (“OOR”) pursuant to a request under the Right-to-Know Law (the “RTKL”), the Commonwealth Court rejected the claim of requester, Alton Brown, who alleged that the Department of Health (“DOH”) did not disclose a complete record, and charged him unreasonable fees for the request.

Appellant Alton Brown is an inmate at State Correctional Institution Greene, and has limited access to records posted on Pennsylvania Agency Websites. Brown submitted a request to the DOH pursuant to the RTKL, requesting a copy of the “last annual Pennsylvania Cancer Plan/Pennsylvania Cancer Control Plan.” The DOH sent Brown a 43 page, five-year “Cancer Control Plan” in response. Brown appealed to the OOR, claiming the records received were incomplete and non-responsive, because the annual report he requested differed from the 5 year plan provided, and he disputed the fee charged, because he claimed he only received 3 pages out of 43. The DOH submitted a verification from its OOR Officer, who attested that the five-year plan provided was the only responsive record, and that she mailed all 43 pages of that plan to Brown. The OOR appeals officer e-mailed the DOH, and asked why the annual report posted on its website was not responsive to the request. The DOH responded that it was only a report containing financial expenditures, and thus not the record requested. The OOR denied Brown’s appeal, finding that the DOH had complied with the request. Brown appealed to the Commonwealth Court.

The Court affirmed the OOR’s decision. The Court found that the DOH appropriately construed Brown’s request for the “last annual” plan, and sent him the record which was most responsive to his request. Although it found no error on the part of the DOH, the Court pointed out that the DOH could have identified the annual report posted on its website to Brown, and explained why it did not produce the document. The Court also rejected Brown’s claim that the fee charged by the DOH for duplication of the records and postage was unreasonable, because he only received three pages of the 43-page plan. The Court reasoned that the DOH proved it sent the entire 43 page record.

Click here to read: Brown v. Pa. Dept. of Health, 1425 C.D. 2017 (Pa. Commw. Ct. December 21, 2018).

Edited by:

Mark D. Eastburn