In this Right-to-Know Law (“RTKL”) appeal from the Office of Open Records (“OOR”), the Commonwealth Court was asked to evaluate when a request is too vague such that an agency is not required to respond.  In finding that the request at issue was too vague, the court reasoned that an overly broad request that does not identify a specific transaction or activity for which the record is being sought, provides no context to guide the agency’s record search and does not require production.


Alton Brown (“Requestor”), an inmate at SCI Huntingdon, submitted a request to the Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) under the RTKL seeking (1) OIG “rules, regulations, policies or related authority that governs its duties and functions;” (2) a diagram of OIG’s various offices and bureaus; and (3) certain criminal and misconduct reports involving staff that resulted in sanctions, demotions, dismissals, or discipline over the prior 10 years. OIG granted the request in part, and denied the request in part. It provided a redacted organization chart, but asserted the first request was too vague and that the other requested documents were exempt because disclosure would result in the loss of federal or state funds; create a substantial and demonstrable risk of physical harm; jeopardize or threaten public safety or public protection activities; and the reports were related to criminal or noncriminal investigations. Requestor appealed to OOR.  OOR issued a final determination ordering disclosure, and found that the request was sufficiently specific to require production and that OIG had failed to meet its burden for any of the claimed exceptions.

On appeal, the Commonwealth Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. The only portion of OOR’s determination that was reversed was its finding that the first request was sufficiently specific to require production.  The court found that the request was too vague to advise OIG of what records were being requested, as it failed to identify the OIG transaction or activity for which the record was sought. Thus OIG had no context by which it could narrow the search of its records. All other aspects of OOR’s final determination were affirmed.

Click here to read: PA Office of Inspector General v. Brown, 1400 CD 2015 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Dec. 21, 2016).

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