The opinion of the court was delivered by: P. Kevin Brobson, Judge
Submitted: November 24, 2010
BEFORE: HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, President Judge HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge
Petitioner Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) petitions for review of an order of Respondent Pennsylvania Office of Open Records (Open Records), which granted in part and denied in part an appeal filed by Alfonso Rizzuto (Requester) for certain information from DOC under the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law (RTKL).*fn1 For the reasons set forth below, we reverse.
On January 27, 2010, Requester submitted a handwritten request for information to DOC under the RTKL. Of the twelve (12) items of information set forth in his letter, only one is at issue in this appeal--namely, Requester's request for the following: "Request to review medical license of sick call nurse on 1/11/2010 claiming to be a doctor at my sick call." (Reproduced Record (R.R.) 2a.) DOC granted in part and denied in part the request. With respect Your request fails to identify or describe the records that you seek with sufficient specificity to enable the RTKL Office to ascertain which records that you seek. Consequently, your request is denied pursuant to 65 P.S. § 67.703.*fn2 The Department cannot determinate what nurse allegedly claimed to be your doctor based upon the description provided." (R.R. 10a. (citations omitted) (emphasis in original).) to the Requester filed a timely appeal of the denial with Open Records. His handwritten appeal included five numbered paragraphs. Paragraphs one through four set forth what amounts to procedural history. The fifth paragraph provides: "The above Pa. right to know requests are public." (R.R. 14a.)
In response to the appeal, Open Records apparently sent a written request to DOC for information substantiating the legal and factual basis for denying the request.*fn3 In its response to Open Records' request, DOC demurred to Requester's appeal, arguing that Requester's appeal failed to comply with Section 1101(a) of the RTKL, which provides, inter alia, the following with respect to appeals to Open Records: "The appeal shall state the grounds upon which the requester asserts that the record is a public record, legislative record or financial record and shall address any grounds stated by the agency for delaying or denying the request." 65 P.S. § 67.1101(a) (emphasis added). In its substantive response to the appeal, DOC asserted again that it justifiably denied the request for failure of the request to satisfy the specificity requirement in Section 703 of the RTKL. DOC also argued that responding to the request would require DOC to disclose Requester's medical records and medical information, which are exempt under Section 708(b)(5) of the RTKL.*fn4
Open Records issued a final determination on Requester's appeal on April 26, 2010. The final determination did not address DOC's claim that Requester failed to file with Open Records a valid appeal of DOC's denial. In addressing the merits of DOC's denial, Open Records acknowledged that Section 703 of the RTKL directs that a requester "should identify or describe the records sought with sufficient specificity to enable the agency to discern which records are being requested." Open Records, however, rejected DOC's arguments that (a) the request was deficient under Section 703 because Requester failed to identify in his request the name of the nurse who treated him and (b) DOC could not identify the nurse without reviewing Requester's medical records. Open Records reasoned:
DOC cannot maintain that it cannot access [Requester's medical records] to find the identity of the sick-call nurse at the time Requester was treated. DOC presumably has records indicating which nurses were on-duty at sick-call on that day, at the time Requester was treated, and so can discern whose "medical license" is being sought. DOC did not assert that there was more than one nurse on duty on the date and time at issue.
[Open Records] does not find the request insufficiently specific because the nurse is unidentified.
The date and time of her treatment is accessible to DOC so her identity can be ascertained by DOC. The record described is thus sufficiently described despite not naming the nurse who treated him.
(R.R. 30a.) Despite rejecting DOC's claim that the request lacked the requisite level of specificity, Open Records noted that it was not making a finding on whether the record sought--"medical license of sick call nurse on 1/11/2010 claiming to be a doctor as my sick call"--actually exists. Thus, Open Records held that DOC was only required to produce the requested information "[t]o the extent that responsive records exist." (Id. 31a.)*fn5
DOC filed a timely appeal with this Court,*fn6 raising the following issues for our review: (1) whether Open Records has standing to participate in this appeal; (2) whether Open Records erred in failing or refusing to dismiss/deny Requester's appeal for failure to comply with Section 1101(a) of the RTKL; and (3) whether Open Records erred in granting Requester's appeal because it means that DOC must review and disclose information relating to Requester's medical care.
Open Records' Participation In This Appeal
In compliance with Section 1303(a) of the ...