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MCMULLAN v. SECRETARY WELFARE (12/09/71)

decided: December 9, 1971.

MCMULLAN, STEELE AND PHILADELPHIA NEWSPAPERS, INC.
v.
SECRETARY OF WELFARE, ET AL.



Appeal from Decision of Secretary of Welfare of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania of July 7, 1971, regarding request of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

COUNSEL

David H. Marion, with him Harold E. Kohn, P.A., for appellants.

Marx S. Leopold, Assistant Attorney General, with him J. Shane Creamer, Attorney General, for appellees.

President Judge Bowman and Judges Kramer, Wilkinson, Jr., Mencer and Rogers. Opinion by Judge Wilkinson.

Author: Wilkinson

[ 3 Pa. Commw. Page 575]

This is an appeal under the "right-to-know" statute, Act of June 21, 1957, P.L. 390, 65 P.S. § 66.1 et seq., from the refusal of the Secretary of Welfare to permit plaintiffs to have access to "welfare lists" during regular business hours and to make copies of portions thereof at their expense. The letter of appellant, John McMullan, making the request, and the reply of the Secretary, make it clear that there were many conferences between the parties involved and their legal counsel which identified to everyone just what information it was that plaintiffs included as "welfare lists". In the brief of appellee, the argument it makes is headed: "A. Appellants Are Not Entitled to List of the Names and Addresses of and Amount of Public Assistance to Welfare Recipients Under the Pennsylvania 'Right-to-Know' Statute, 65 P.S. §§ 66.1-66.4." We therefore here consider that narrow question and find that the appellants are entitled to have access to such records of the appellee as will afford them that information.

The Act of June 21, 1957, provides in Section 2, 65 P.S. § 66.2, that every "public record" of an agency

[ 3 Pa. Commw. Page 576]

    shall be open for inspection by any citizen of the Commonwealth. A public record is defined in Section 1 as follows: "Any account, voucher or contract dealing with the receipt or disbursement of funds by an agency or its acquisition, use or disposal of services or of supplies, materials, equipment or other property and any minute, order or decision by an agency fixing the personal or property rights, privileges, immunities, duties or obligations of any person or group of persons: Provided, That the term 'public records' shall not mean any report, communication or other paper, the publication of which would disclose the institution, progress or result of an investigation undertaken by an agency in the performance of its official duties or any record, document, material, exhibit, pleading, report, memorandum or other paper, access to or the publication of which is prohibited, restricted or forbidden by statute law or order or decree of Court, or which would operate to the prejudice or impairment of a person's reputation or personal security, or which would result in the loss by the Commonwealth or any of its political subdivisions or commissions or State or municipal authorities of Federal funds, excepting therefrom however the record of any conviction for any criminal act." It is appellants' position that the plain language of the Act clearly specifies that they have access to "any account, voucher or contract dealing with the receipt or disbursement of funds". The Secretary defends her refusal on the fact that the names, addresses, and amounts received by welfare recipients are excluded from the mandate of the Act by the definition of public record which excludes: (1) All records, access to or the publication of which is prohibited, restricted or forbidden by statute; (2) All records, access to or the publication of which would operate to the prejudice or impairment of a person's reputation or personal security;

[ 3 Pa. Commw. Page 577]

(3) All records, access to or the publication of which would result in the loss by the Commonwealth of federal funds. We cannot agree. On exclusion (1) above, the Secretary refers to Section 404(a) of the Public Welfare Code, Act of June 13, 1967, P.L. 31, as amended, 62 P.S. § 404(a) which grants to the Department of Welfare the right to adopt regulations to protect the names of recipients of public assistance. However, Section 404(a) provides: "Upon request of any adult resident of the Commonwealth, the Department may furnish the address and amount of assistance with respect to persons about whom inquiry is made. . . ." (Emphasis supplied) Even more significantly, Section 425 provides that any county board shall furnish such information.

Appellee's case turns on the fact that neither Section 404(a) nor Section 425 specifies furnishing names as well as addresses and amounts received with respect to persons about whom inquiry is made. It is pointed out that earlier legislation contained a provision which included providing names. The Public Assistance Law of 1937, Act of June 24, 1937, P.L. 2051, did not contain a provision covering this matter but one was added by the amendatory Act of June 26, 1939, P.L. 1091, Section 7(o), which added to the powers and duties of county boards of assistance, inter alia : "To make available for inspection and examination during office hours, to any taxpayer, in such manner as the county board of assistance may prescribe, the names, addresses, and amount of assistance granted to all persons then receiving general assistance." The Act of August 22, 1953, P.L. 1361, amended Section 7(o) to read ...


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