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Signature Information Solutions, LLC v. Township

May 26, 2010

SIGNATURE INFORMATION SOLUTIONS, LLC, APPELLANT
v.
ASTON TOWNSHIP



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Senior Judge FRIEDMAN*fn1

Argued: February 9, 2010

BEFORE: HONORABLE DAN PELLEGRINI, Judge, HONORABLE JOHNNY J. BUTLER, Judge, HONORABLE ROCHELLE S. FRIEDMAN, Senior Judge.

OPINION

Signature Information Solutions, LLC, (Requester) appeals from the May 27, 2009, order of the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County (trial court), which reversed the Final Determination of the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records (OOR) directing Aston Township (Township) to supply Requester with information it requested pursuant to the Right-to-Know Law (Law).*fn2 We reverse.

On January 28, 2009, Requester submitted a standard right-to-know request form to the Township, seeking "printouts of the current tax year information (including INTERIM tax bills), as well as any other charges for lienable items against the real estate that your tax entity collects, with regard to . [two specified properties. Requester also sought] Homestead Rebate information where applicable." (R.R. at 5a; Findings of Fact, Nos. 1-2.)

The Township denied the request because the information "is available through publicly accessible electronic means by accessing www.co.Delaware.pa.us, see Section 704 of the Act."*fn3 (1/29/09 Letter, R.R. at 6a; Findings of Fact, No. 4.) The Township advised, "Should [Requester] require a certification of the tax status for the property identified, a written request can be submitted to the Tax Collector for Aston Township, along with the requisite fee.." (1/29/09 Letter, R.R. at 6a.)

On February 11, 2009, Requester filed an appeal with the OOR, stating, in part, as follows:

We are aware of the county site and do research information from the county on a regular basis with no issue. Our request was focused [on] the information maintained by the tax collector. [Township employees] have been upholding the argument that they . would need to obtain a certification from the tax collector. We were simply . requesting the information from the [open records officer].

(R.R. at 7a.) By letter dated February 11, 2009, the OOR notified the parties that it would assign an Appeals Officer to review the case and that the parties could submit additional information regarding the appeal within seven calendar days. (R.R. at 9a.)

The Township submitted nothing to the OOR within seven calendar days. On February 27, 2009, however, the Township submitted an "Explanation of Grounds for Denial of Request" (Explanation). The Township asserted that it denied the request pursuant to section 705 of the Law, which states that "an agency shall not be required to create a record which does not currently exist or to compile, maintain, format or organize a record in a manner in which the agency does not currently compile, maintain, format or organize the record." 65 P.S. §67.705. Although the Township previously denied the request under section 704 of the Law because the printouts were available through the county web site, the Township now asserted that printouts with the requested information do not exist. (R.R. at 13a.)

[S]uch information would need to be assembled and then created in the form of a database to be provided to [Requester]. This request seeks the type of information typically provided in the form of a Tax Certification/Lien Search.... The Certification requires intensive research on the part of the Township officials and employees. In order to prepare a Certification, a Township official or employee must search various records in numerous databases (including but not limited to paper files, bank deposits, court orders and county assessment appeals). From this information the Township official would then assemble the data and figures and create a certified record. In some instances, a search of this nature may take many hours. This Certification is not a public record and is not subject to the [Law] as it requires the creation of a record, which is specifically exempted . under Section 705. [Requester] attempts to circumvent the Township policy on Certifications through the Right to Know request.

The Township requires a Certification fee of $15.00 per researched and certified year.

(R.R. at 13a-14a) (emphasis added).

In a March 4, 2009, letter, the Appeals Officer advised the ...


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