INTRODUCTION TO RIGHT TO KNOW LAW
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Copyright © 2010
All rights reserved.
R. Zegarelli, Esq.
Following is a brief
breakdown. The law is available at
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A record, including a financial record, of a Commonwealth or local
agency that: (1) is not exempt under section 708; (2) is not exempt from
being disclosed under any other Federal or State law or regulation or
judicial order or decree; or (3) is not protected by a privilege.
Note that the
definition does not deal in traditional concepts of "databases" or
particular documents. The definition is reduced to "Information,
regardless of physical form received in connection with business
activity of an agency."
Information, regardless of physical form or characteristics, that
documents a transaction or activity of an agency and that is created,
received or retained pursuant to law or in connection with a
transaction, business or activity of the agency. The term includes a
document, paper, letter, map, book, tape, photograph, film or sound
recording, information stored or maintained electronically and a
dataprocessed or image- processed document.
citizens and disclosure.
rule. — A record in the possession of a Commonwealth agency or local
agency shall be presumed to be a public record. [See Rule 708 below,
Burden of Proof on Agency to claim an Exemption.]
There are heavy
duties on the government to track Right to Know requests.
Open Records Officers
(1) The open-records officer shall receive requests submitted to the
agency under this act, direct requests to other appropriate persons
within the agency or to appropriate persons in another agency, track the
agency’s progress in responding to requests and issue interim and final
responses under this act. (2) Upon receiving a request for a public
record, legislative record or financial record, the open-records officer
shall do all of the following: (i) Note the date of receipt on the
written request. (ii) Compute the day on which the five-day period under
section 901 will expire and make a notation of that date on the written
request. (iii) Maintain an electronic or paper copy of a written
request, including all documents submitted with the request until the
request has been fulfilled. If the request is denied, the written
request shall be maintained for 30 days or, if an appeal is filed, until
a final determination is issued under section 1101(b) or the appeal is
Even for multiple requests, the
agency to whom a request is made must claim the rule and show a heavy
burden of proof of an "unreasonable burden." Even so, the request
is then a denial under Sect. 903.
Note that the law contemplates
electronic access in (b)(2).
The agency is deemed to be in
possession of parties with whom it contracts under section (d)(1).
— (1) An agency may deny a requester access to a
record if the requester has made repeated requests for
that same record and the repeated requests have placed an
unreasonable burden on the agency.
(b) Disaster or
potential damage. —
(1) An agency may
deny a requester access:
(i) when timely
access is not possible due to fire, flood or other disaster; or (ii) to
historical, ancient or rare documents, records, archives and manuscripts
when access may, in the professional judgment of the curator or
custodian of records, cause physical damage or irreparable harm to the
(2) To the extent
possible, the contents of a record under this subsection shall be made
accessible to a requester even when the record is physically
(1) A public record
that is not in the possession of an agency but is in the possession of a
party with whom the agency has contracted to perform a governmental
function on behalf of the agency, and which directly relates to the
governmental function and is not exempt under this act, shall be
considered a public record of the agency for purposes of this act.
(2) Nothing in this
act shall be construed to require access to any other record of the
party in possession of the public record.
(3) A request for a
public record in possession of a party other than the agency shall be
submitted to the open records officer of the agency. Upon a
determination that the record is subject to access under this act, the
open records officer shall assess the duplication fee established under
section 1307(b) and upon collection shall remit the fee to the party in
possession of the record if the party duplicated the record.
must be made available in various forms.
(a) General rule.
— Unless otherwise provided by law, a public record, legislative record
or financial record shall be accessible for inspection and duplication
in accordance with this act. A record being provided to a requester
shall be provided in the medium requested if it exists in that medium;
otherwise, it shall be provided in the medium in which it exists. Public
records, legislative records or financial records shall be available for
access during the regular business hours of an agency.
is contemplated by the Act.
(a) General rule. —
In addition to the requirements of section 701, an agency may make its
records available through any publicly accessible electronic means.
(b) Response. — (1)
In addition to the requirements of section 701, an agency may respond to
a request by notifying the requester that the record is available
through publicly accessible electronic means or that the agency will
provide access to inspect the record electronically.
(2) If the requester
is unwilling or unable to access the record electronically, the
requester may, within 30 days following receipt of the agency
notification, submit a written request to the agency to have the record
converted to paper. The agency shall provide access to the record in
printed form within five days of the receipt of the written request for
conversion to paper.
If only part of a record is
exempt under 708(b), then the agency redacts, but cannot make a blanket
agency determines that a public record, legislative record or financial
record contains information which is subject to access as well as
information which is not subject to access, the agency’s response
shall grant access to the information which is subject to access and
deny access to the information which is not subject to access. If
the information which is not subject to access is an integral part of
the public record, legislative record or financial record and cannot be
separated, the agency shall redact from the record the information which
is not subject to access, and the response shall grant access to the
information which is subject to access. The agency may not deny
access to the record if the information which is not subject to access
is able to be redacted. Information which an agency redacts in
accordance with this subsection shall be deemed a denial under Chapter
9. [Emphasis added]
The agency has the burden to
prove any exception.
Exceptions are too detailed to state here and are very specific.
public records. (a) Burden of proof. — (1) The burden of proving that a
record of a Commonwealth agency or local agency is exempt from public
access shall be on the Commonwealth agency or local agency receiving a
request by a preponderance of the evidence.
five (5) days.
901 Response General
Upon receipt of a
written request for access to a record, an agency shall make a good
faith effort to determine if the record requested is a public record,
legislative record or financial record and whether the agency has
possession, custody or control of the identified record, and to respond
as promptly as possible under the circumstances existing at the time of
the request. All applicable fees shall be paid in order to receive
access to the record requested. The time for response shall not exceed
five business days from the date the written request is received by the
open-records officer for an agency. If the agency fails to send the
response within five business days of receipt of the written request for
access, the written request for access shall be deemed denied.
The agency must
specifically identify the reason for a denial.
If an agency’s
response is a denial of a written request for access, whether in whole
or in part, the denial shall be issued in writing and shall include: (1)
A description of the record requested. (2) The specific reasons for the
denial, including a citation of supporting legal authority.
(3) The typed or
printed name, title, business address, business telephone number and
signature of the open-records officer on whose authority the denial is
issued. (4) Date of the response. (5) The procedure to appeal the denial
of access under this act.
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