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Fort Cherry School District v. Susan Coppola

February 23, 2012

FORT CHERRY SCHOOL DISTRICT, APPELLANT
v.
SUSAN COPPOLA



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert Simpson, Judge

Submitted: January 13, 2012

BEFORE: HONORABLE RENEE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge HONORABLE JAMES GARDNER COLINS, Senior Judge

OPINION BY

JUDGE SIMPSON

This is an appeal from the Washington County Court of Common Pleas (trial court) order affirming the Office of Open Records (OOR) Final Determination that granted access to identifiable W-2 forms requested pursuant to the Right-to-Know Law (RTKL).*fn1 The Fort Cherry School District (School District) asserts it properly withheld the W-2s as exempt in their entirety by federal statute. Based upon our case law, we must reverse the trial court.

Background

Susan Coppola (Requester) submitted a request to the School District seeking 2008 and 2009 W-2s and 1099s, from which all personal information is redacted, for: Dr. Robert Dinnen; Mr. Paul Sroka; Ms. Trish Craig; and, Ms. Dawn Smith (Request).

The School District responded that 1099 forms do not exist for the named individuals, and invoked the 30-day extension permitted by Section 902 of the RTKL, 65 P.S. §67.902(a), to respond to the part of the Request seeking W-2 information. Within the extension period, the School District withheld the W-2 forms as protected from disclosure under federal law, and thus exempt under Section 305(a)(3) of the RTKL, 65 P.S. §67.305(a)(3). Specifically, the School District advised the W-2s are exempt in their entirety as "return information" under the Internal Revenue Code, 26 U.S.C. §6103. The School District also asserted the W-2 forms contain "personal financial information," Social Security and employee identification numbers exempt under Section 708(b)(6) of the RTKL, 65 P.S. §67.708(b)(6).

Requester appealed to the OOR, explaining the grounds for her appeal as to the W-2 information. Requester did not challenge the alleged non-existence of the 1099s in her appeal; thus, that issue was not properly before the OOR. See Dep't of Corr. v. Office of Open Records, 18 A.3d 429 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2011) (a requester must address grounds stated by an agency for not providing the records).

The School District asserted that the federal statute, 26 U.S.C. §6103, protects W-2s. In support, the School District cited a decision authored by then-President Judge Ronald Vican of the Monroe County Court of Common Pleas, which held that W-2s are protected in their entirety under that federal statute. See Campbell v. Pocono Mt. Sch. Dist., No. 6384 (C.C.P. Monroe, filed Oct. 2, 2009). The School District argued that decisions by courts of common pleas are binding on the OOR, regardless of whether the local agency is located in the county that decided the issue.

The OOR held the W-2s are subject to disclosure under the RTKL, with redaction of personal information protected by Section 708(b)(6). The OOR disregarded Judge Vican's decision in Monroe County and noted the OOR is not bound by the decision since the School District is not located in Monroe County.

Pursuant to Section 1302 of the RTKL, the School District appealed the OOR's determination to the Court of Common Pleas in Washington County. The trial court heard argument from the School District prior to issuing its order. Neither Requester nor the OOR appeared before the trial court. The OOR rested on the merits of its final determination. The trial court denied the School District's petition for review and upheld the OOR.

The School District appealed to this Court, arguing W-2s are exempt and that the OOR lacked authority to require an affidavit of non-existence for the 1099s.*fn2

Requester filed a notice of non-participation. The only issue before the Court is whether the W-2s are protected by the federal ...


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