PA’s top court to decide if open case law applies

  • In November 2020, a Bucks County resident requested financial and legal records from PIAA under Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Act
  • PIAA replied that the law did not apply to her
  • The state’s Commonwealth Court ruled against the PIAA; The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case

The state’s highest court will determine whether the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, the state’s governing body for high school athletics, is subject to the state’s right to know law.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of a unanimous Commonwealth Court decision that found the PIAA must abide by the Right to Know Act, passed in 2008.

The Open Records Act specifically names the PIAA as one of several “state-affiliated” entities that fall under the law and must disclose financial records and other information.

The “classification of the PIAA as a ‘state-affiliated entity’ for the purposes of the RTKL is reasonable”, according to the Commonwealth Court’s ruling, handed down in November. The decision upheld a decision by the Office of Open State Archives from January 2021.

In December, the PIAA asked the state Supreme Court to hear an appeal, and the High Court granted the appeal on Wednesday. The next step is for the court to schedule a hearing.

The State Supreme Court is not required to hear an appeal in every case where an appeal is sought. It typically hears appeals in cases of statewide significance or cases in which lower courts have made conflicting decisions.

By granting what is called a leave to appeal application, the Supreme Court of seven member states has narrowed the topics it will consider in the PIAA case.

The battle continues:Is the PIAA subject to the right to know law? State and appeals court say yes, but PIAA still fights

The state Supreme Court’s order said it would review the PIAA’s claim that the Commonwealth Court erred in finding that the specific inclusion of the PIAA in the Right to namely “did not constitute special legislation and a violation of the PIAA’s equal protective rights”. The state Supreme Court will also consider whether the Commonwealth Court erred – as the PIAA claims – in finding that the Right to Know Act supersedes the Not-for-Profit Companies Act 1988 regarding disclosure. files.

The PIAA, according to the order, argues that it is not subject to the right to know law, despite its specific inclusion in the law, because of the law on not-for-profit corporations and because The PIAA “is a private, not-for-profit corporation which receives no Commonwealth funding of any kind, has not been granted and exercises no legislative powers, is not controlled by Commonwealth staff and does not was not created by an act of the General Assembly.

The state Supreme Court’s decision will determine whether the Right to Know Act has jurisdiction over the PIAA. A ruling in favor of the PIAA would virtually shut down public access to PIAA records, even though the organization had complied with the right-to-know law and fulfilled records requests since the law was passed — although subject to.

Frivolous requests?

In its 7-0 decision that went against the PIAA, the Commonwealth Court ruled in favor of Bucks County resident Simon Campbell, who requested PIAA records in November 2020. The PIAA in this case claimed that she did not fall under the right to know the law.

Campbell’s attorney, Craig Staudenmaier of Harrisburg, declined to comment on the state Supreme Court’s decision to hear an appeal, saying he should discuss the case with Campbell. PIAA executive director Robert Lombardi declined to comment, saying the PIAA does not comment on ongoing litigation.

In December 2020, as litigation over Campbell’s claim began to unfold, Lombardi said the PIAA was concerned about “frivolous claims” under the Right to Know Act.

“It’s not about not granting access to information, but rather about requests that push boundaries,” Lombardi said at the time.

Staudenmaier, Campbell’s attorney, dismissed that argument in a January interview, after the PIAA filed its appeal with the state Supreme Court.

“Just because a request is cumbersome because it may involve a large number of documents doesn’t mean you don’t have an obligation to produce them in a timely manner,” Staudenmaier said.

Call path

In the PIAA case, the 28-page Commonwealth Court decision against the organization was released as precedent on November 30. She upheld a decision the state’s Office of Open Records issued on January 13, 2021.

The OOR had declared the PIAA subject to the Right to Know Act in response to the PIAA’s appeal of a request for the tapes by Campbell. He asked the PIAA, which includes 12 regional districts, to release thousands of documents, including financial statements and legal communications from 2012 through about the end of 2020.

RO decision:PA Office of Open Records rules against PIAA, says agency falls under Right to Know Act

The PIAA responded that some of the documents did not exist and that it was in no way subject to the right to know law. Campbell won his appeal to the OOR, and the PIAA then appealed that decision to the Commonwealth Court, made up of nine elected judges. The seven-judge panel rejected PIAA’s arguments that it is not subject to the right to know law, despite being included in the law.

Counter objection:PIAA files suit in Commonwealth Court, claiming Right to Know Act should not apply to it

The Commonwealth Court’s opinion noted that “the PIAA is the de facto statewide regulator of high school sports across the Commonwealth”. The ruling reiterated a state Supreme Court finding in another case that the PIAA receives its funding from school district membership dues and admission revenue from sporting events involving public high schools.

“As the PIAA undertakes state action and is funded primarily by public school districts” in the opinion of the Commonwealth Court, “the classification of the PIAA by the General Assembly as an ‘affiliated entity of State” for the purposes of qualifying as an agency under the RTKL has a rational basis and furthers a legitimate state interest in transparency in PIAA’s use of public funds in a manner that has tremendous impact on the lives of students.”

The state Supreme Court will determine whether the Commonwealth Court’s reasoning was correct.

Contact Ed Palattella at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ETNpalattella.

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