A recent Final Determination from the Office of Open Records clarified the RTKL’s statutory exemption that allows a state agency to deny a request to produce records related to a noncriminal investigation.

In Aponte v. Pottstown School District, OOR Dkt. AP 2019-2055 (Dec. 30, 2019), the Requester sought records related to investigative complaints, findings and reports into alleged discrimination by the Requester against a named person.  The District denied the request and the Requester appealed.

Key Takeaways from this Decision:

  • This decision began its analysis with a review of the policy underpinning the RTKL and the burden on the state agency to establish why its satisfied its burden of proof to demonstrate that a particular public record requested is exempt.
  • Procedurally, the decision observed that an appeals officer in the OOR may conduct a hearing but also has the non-appealable discretion to decide not to request a hearing and to make a decision based on the evidence presented to it.
  • Section 708(b)(17) of the RTKL exempts from disclosure “a record of an agency relating to a noncriminal investigation, including complaints submitted to an agency and investigative material, notes, correspondence and reports, or a record that, if disclosed, would reveal an institution, progress and result of an agency investigation.” Slip op. at 4.
  • The decision also explains the requirements that must be met by an agency to successfully assert an exemption from production for noncriminal investigation materials.

The reasoning of the decision falls into two general categories: (1) The District established that it conducted a noncriminal investigation as part of its legislatively granted authority and that such an investigation was actually conducted; and (2) The District demonstrated that the records requested included those that were within the scope of the investigation conducted, although a final report was produced to the Requester