In this Right-to-Know Law (“RTKL”) case arising from an appeal to the Office of Open Records (“OOR”), the Commonwealth Court was presented with a petition alleging that a state agency had failed to disclose all responsive records, as ordered by OOR, and a request for statutory sanctions.  In denying cross motions for summary relief, the court chose to allow the matter to develop further to determine the extent of the Department of Corrections’ (“DOC”) noncompliance with the OOR final determination.


The Herald Standard newspaper (“Requestor”) submitted a RTKL request to the DOC, seeking de-identified diagnosis data of inmates at State Correctional Institution-Fayette related to the exposure of inmates and staff to nearby toxic coal waste and DOC’s investigation into the exposure. DOC denied the request, asserting the medical records exception and noncriminal investigation exception to the RTKL. Requestor appealed to OOR. OOR rejected DOC’s noncriminal investigation defense because the investigation was not attendant to DOC’s duties, but rather was ancillary. It similarly denied the medical records defense because the request stated that no identifying information was being sought. OOR ordered disclosure of all responsive records.  DOC did not appeal OOR’s final determination. DOC subsequently provided compiled statistics, but not inmate medical files in redacted form. Requestor filed a petition for review with the Commonwealth Court, asserting DOC had to release the redacted medical files. It asked the court to compel disclosure and impose statutory sanctions for noncompliance with the OOR final determination.

The Commonwealth Court granted summary relief to DOC as to withholding inmate medical records, finding that OOR, in its final determination, had construed the request as seeking aggregated data, and not the redacted medical records. Thus the information provided by DOC was in compliance with OOR’s final determination. However, it remained unclear whether all responsive documents had been disclosed. As it was unclear to what extent DOC had not complied with the OOR final determination, the court denied summary relief to Requestor to allow further development of the record as to whether and when DOC had disclosed all responsive records.

Click here to read: Uniontown Newspapers, Inc. v. PA Dept. of Corrections, 66 MD 2015 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Dec. 19, 2016).

Edited by:

Sivertsen_BLOGZac Sivertsen