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Chase v. Public Utility Commission of Pennsylvania

March 31, 2008

NORMA CHASE, PLAINTIFF
v.
PUBLIC UTILITY COMMISSION OF PENNSYLVANIA ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Kane

MEMORANDUM

Before the Court are Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings and Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. Nos. 66, 81.) For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant judgment in Defendants' favor.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Norma Chase, brought this action against the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and individual Commissioners (collectively, the "PUC") to challenge the PUC's policy regarding the dissemination and copying of transcripts of public hearings. After two amendments to the complaint (Doc. Nos. 27, 33), the Court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' motion to dismiss the second amended complaint (Doc. No. 62). The PUC thereafter filed an answer (Doc. No. 63), and moved for judgment on the pleadings (Doc. No. 66). The parties then submitted a joint stipulation of facts (Doc. No. 73) and exhibits supporting the stipulation (Doc. No. 72). Chase submitted, pursuant to Court order (Doc. No. 76), a motion for judgment as a matter of law (Doc. No. 81), based upon the stipulated facts. The parties briefed the motions (Doc. Nos. 67, 83, 87), which are ripe for disposition.

II. FINDINGS OF FACT*fn1

1. On January 13, 2005, the PUC held a public meeting. (S. ¶ 1; Ex. 1.)

2. In September 2005, Chase requested a transcript of the meeting from the PUC.

3. The PUC refused to make copies, indicating that Chase would need to contact the Commonwealth Reporting Company ("Reporting Agency") in order to obtain a copy. (S. ¶ 2.)

4. The PUC indicated that Chase would be "permitted to view the transcript [at the PUC] and even take your own notes but we are not permitted to make you copies from the transcript." (S. ¶ 2.)

5. Based upon a rate of $2.80 per page and thirty-one billable pages, the cost of purchasing the transcript from the Reporting Agency would have been $86.80. (S. ¶ 3.)

6. On October 31, 2005, Chase formally requested a photocopy of transcript from the PUC at the "cost of copying." (S. ¶ 4.)

7. The PUC declined Chase's request, citing its policy to refer requests for transcripts to the Reporting Agency. (S. ¶ 6.) That policy is reflected on the PUC's website, which states that "[t]he PUC does not handle transcripts from public meetings or hearings. You must contact the court reporting firm. For copies of transcripts, please contact the appropriate [Reporting Agency]." (Ex. 2.)

8. The PUC entered into a contract with the Reporting Agency, under which the Reporting Agency agreed to provide transcribing services to the PUC. As part of the contract, the PUC reserved the right to make copies of the transcripts for internal use, but agreed that it would not "supply transcripts . . . except [in limited circumstances], unless ordered to do so by court order." The contract also stated that "[b]ecause the transcript will, in some cases, be a public record, any member of the general public shall be permitted to examine a transcript unless [the hearing was closed or the record was sealed]. If a member of the general public requests a copy of the transcript, the requesting party shall be directed to the [Reporting Agency] for the purchase of the copy . . . . In any event, however, after 5 years, transcripts will be deemed to have entered the public domain. As such, the Commonwealth shall have the right to provide copies of any transcripts 5 years old or older to any interested person for the amount per page rate as fixed by the Commonwealth." (Ex. 4, at 1, 7.)

9. Under the Contract, the Reporting Agency agreed that it would place the following statement on the cover page of its transcripts: "Any reproduction of this transcript is prohibited without authorization by the certifying agency." (Ex. 3, at 6.) The transcripts, in fact, included such a statement. (S. ¶ 9.)

10. For documents other than transcripts, the PUC charges 75 cents per page for public-record documents.

III. DISCUSSION

Chase's challenge to the PUC policy presents two succinct legal issues. The first is whether the PUC policy is preempted by the express-preemption provision of federal copyright law, 17 U.S.C. § 301. Subsumed within this issue is whether Chase may maintain a cause of action against the PUC under § 301. The second issue presented is whether the PUC policy deprives Chase of her First Amendment rights. The Court will address each in turn.

A. Private right of action

At the outset, the Court must determine whether federal law provides Chase with a private right of action to challenge the PUC policy as preempted by the Copyright Act. As ...


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