Three Recent Home Address Cases

Last month, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued one decision and the Commonwealth Court issued two decisions addressing issues related to home addresses, the Right-to-Know Law, and the right to privacy found in Article I, Section 1, of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

In chronological order, the decisions are:

Butler Area School District v. Pennsylvanians for Union Reform (Commonwealth Court, November 2, 2017)

Chester Housing Authority v. Polaha (Commonwealth Court, November 21, 2017)

Reese v. Pennsylvanians for Union Reform (Supreme Court, November 22, 2017: majority opinion, concurring opinion)

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RTK Request Received by the OOR for Home Addresses

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s recent decision in Pennsylvania State Education Association vs. The Office of Open Records, 2016 Pa. LEXIS 2337, 41 I.E.R. Cas. (BNA) 1310 (Pa. Oct. 18, 2016), opens with this text:

This case involves an examination of the scope of the “personal security” exception to disclosure under the Right to Know Law (“RTKL”), 65 P.S. §§ 67.101- 67.3104, and, more specifically, whether school districts must disclose the home addresses of public school employees. Under the prior Right to Know Act, 65 P.S. §§ 66.1-66.4 (repealed, effective January 1, 2009) (“RTKA”), this Court had on three occasions ruled that certain types of information, including home addresses, implicated the right to privacy under Article 1, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, and thus required a balancing to determine whether the right to privacy outweighs the public’s interest in dissemination. Sapp Roofing Co. v. Sheet Metal Workers’ Int’l Ass’n, Local Union No. 12, 713 A.2d 627 (Pa. 1998) (plurality); Pa. State Univ. v. State Employees’ Retirement Board, 935 A.2d 530 (Pa. 2007); Tribune-Review Publ. Co. v. Bodack, 961 A.2d 110 (Pa. 2008). Our task here is to determine whether this analysis continues to obtain under the RTKL. We hold that it does.

The case most directly addresses the issue of Right-to-Know Law requests for the home addresses of public agency employees (e.g., teachers) when a request is directed to their employer (e.g., school district).

But it has broader implications as well, as the right of privacy inherent in Article 1, Section 1, of the Pennsylvania state constitution (“All men are born and equally free and independent, and have certain inherent and indefeasible rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty, of acquiring, possessing and protecting property and reputation, and of pursuing their own happiness.”) also applies outside the specific context of a request for the home addresses of public agency employees directed to their employer.

You can read the majority opinion here, and a concurring opinion here.

As the Office of Open Records handles cases – both requests and appeals – dealing with the type of personal information addressed in PSEA, I’ll post our responses and decisions here in an attempt to help members of the public and public agencies navigate similar issues.

On October 19, 2016, the OOR received the following request (edited for brevity and clarity):

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Supreme Court Ruling in PSEA Case

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has issued a ruling in PSEA v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a case involving the home addresses of public school employees.

The opinion was authored by Justice Donohue and joined by Chief Justice Saylor and Justices Baer, Todd and Dougherty. Justice Wecht filed a concurring opinion. Both are available here:

PSEA v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania – Majority Opinion – Oct. 18, 2016 – PDF

PSEA v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania – Concurring Opinion – Oct. 18, 2016 – PDF

The case has been “remanded to the Commonwealth Court for further proceedings consistent with this decision.”

OOR Filing in PSEA Case

One of the most-watched Right-to-Know Law court cases involves the Pennsylvania State Education Association and the issue of agency employees’ home addresses.

As part of the case, the Office of Open Records recently filed this brief. Full disclosure: It’s a 110-page PDF.

(The most recent court filing in the case was made by the Supreme Court on June 17, 2015, when it issued an order continuing the injunction entered on July 28, 2009, as modified by the March 15, 2014, order.)

The Supreme Court has not scheduled argument as of this posting.