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Right To Know Appeal Process

CHAPTER 11. APPEAL OF AGENCY DETERMINATION

Section 1101. Filing of appeal.

(a) Authorization. —

(1) If a written request for access to a record is denied or deemed denied, the requester may file an appeal with the Office of Open Records or judicial, legislative or other appeals officer designated under section 503(d) within 15 business days of the mailing date of the agency’s response or within 15 business days of a deemed denial. The appeal shall state the grounds upon which the requester asserts that the record is a public record, legislative record or financial record and shall address any grounds stated by the agency for delaying or denying the request.

(2) Except as provided in section 503(d), in the case of an appeal of a decision by a Commonwealth agency or local agency, the Office of Open Records shall assign an appeals officer to review the denial.

(b) Determination. —

(1) Unless the requester agrees otherwise, the appeals officer shall make a final determination which shall be mailed to the requester and the agency within 30 days of receipt of the appeal filed under subsection (a).

(2) If the appeals officer fails to issue a final determination within 30 days, the appeal is deemed denied.

(3) Prior to issuing a final determination, a hearing may be conducted. The determination by the appeals officer shall be a final order. The appeals officer shall provide a written explanation of the reason for the decision to the requester and the agency.

(c) Direct interest. —

(1) A person other than the agency or requester with a direct interest in the record subject to an appeal under this section may, within 15 days following receipt of actual knowledge of the appeal but no later than the date the appeals officer issues an order, file a written request to provide information or to appear before the appeals officer or to file information in support of the requester’s or agency’s position.

(2) The appeals officer may grant a request under paragraph (1) if:

(i) no hearing has been held;

(ii) the appeals officer has not yet issued its order; and

(iii) the appeals officer believes the information will be probative.

(3) Copies of the written request shall be sent to the agency and the requester.

Section 1102. Appeals officers.

(a) Duties. — An appeals officer designated under section 503 shall do all of the following:

(1) Set a schedule for the requester and the open- records officer to submit documents in support of their positions.

(2) Review all information filed relating to the request. The appeals officer may hold a hearing. A decision to hold or not to hold a hearing is not appealable. The appeals officer may admit into evidence testimony, evidence and documents that the appeals officer believes to be reasonably probative and relevant to an issue in dispute. The appeals officer may limit the nature and extent of evidence found to be cumulative.

(3) Consult with agency counsel as appropriate.

(4) Issue a final determination on behalf of the Office of Open Records or other agency.

(b) Procedures. — The Office of Open Records, a judicial agency, a legislative agency, the Attorney General, Auditor General, State Treasurer or district attorney may adopt procedures relating to appeals under this chapter.

(1) If an appeal is resolved without a hearing, 1 Pa. Code Pt. II (relating to general rules of administrative practice and procedure) does not apply except to the extent that the agency has adopted these chapters in its regulations or rules under this subsection.

(2) If a hearing is held, 1 Pa. Code Pt. II shall apply unless the agency has adopted regulations, policies or procedures to the contrary under this subsection.

(3) In the absence of a regulation, policy or procedure governing appeals under this chapter, the appeals officer shall rule on procedural matters on the basis of justice, fairness and the expeditious resolution of the dispute.

CHAPTER 13. JUDICIAL REVIEW

Section 1301. Commonwealth agencies, legislative agencies and judicial agencies.

(a) General rule. — Within 30 days of the mailing date of the final determination of the appeals officer relating to a decision of a Commonwealth agency, a legislative agency or a judicial agency issued under section 1101(b) or the date a request for access is deemed denied, a requester or the agency may file a petition for review or other document as might be required by rule of court with the Commonwealth Court. The decision of the court shall contain findings of fact and conclusions of law based upon the evidence as a whole. The decision shall clearly and concisely explain the rationale for the decision.

(b) Stay. — A petition for review under this section shall stay the release of documents until a decision undersubsection (a) is issued.

Section 1302. Local agencies.

(a) General rule. — Within 30 days of the mailing date of the final determination of the appeals officer relating to a decision of a local agency issued under section 1101(b) or of the date a request for access is deemed denied, a requester or local agency may file a petition for review or other document as required by rule of court with the court of common pleas for the county where the local agency is located. The decision of the court shall contain findings of fact and conclusions of law based upon the evidence as a whole. The decision shall clearly and concisely explain the rationale for the decision.

(b) Stay. — A petition for review under this section shall stay the release of documents until a decision under subsection (a) is issued.

Section 1303. Notice and records.

(a) Notice. — An agency, the requester and the Office of Open Records or designated appeals officer shall be served notice of actions commenced in accordance with section 1301 or 1302 and shall have an opportunity to respond in accordance with applicable court rules.

(b) Record on appeal. — The record before a court shall consist of the request, the agency’s response, the appeal filed under section 1101, the hearing transcript, if any, and the final written determination of the appeals officer.

Section 1304. Court costs and attorney fees.

(a) Reversal of agency determination. — If a court reverses the final determination of the appeals officer or grants access to a record after a request for access was deemed denied, the court may award reasonable attorney fees and costs of litigation or an appropriate portion thereof to a requester if the court finds either of the following:

(1) the agency receiving the original request willfully or with wanton disregard deprived the requester of access to a public record subject to access or otherwise acted in bad faith under the provisions of this act; or

(2) the exemptions, exclusions or defenses asserted by the agency in its final determination were not based on a reasonable interpretation of law.

(b) Sanctions for frivolous requests or appeals. — The court may award reasonable attorney fees and costs of litigation or an appropriate portion thereof to an agency or the requester if the court finds that the legal challenge under this chapter was frivolous.

(c) Other sanctions. — Nothing in this act shall prohibit a court from imposing penalties and costs in accordance with applicable rules of court.

Section 1305. Civil penalty.

(a) Denial of access. — A court may impose a civil penalty of not more than $1,500 if an agency denied access to a public record in bad faith.

(b) Failure to comply with court order. — An agency or public official who does not promptly comply with a court order under this act is subject to a civil penalty of not more than $500 per day until the public records are provided.

Section 1306. Immunity.

(a) General rule. — Except as provided in sections 1304 and 1305 and other statutes governing the release of records, no agency, public official or public employee shall be liable for civil penalties resulting from compliance or failure to comply with this act.

(b) Schedules. — No agency, public official or public employee shall be liable for civil or criminal damages orpenalties under this act for complying with any written public record retention and disposition schedule.

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