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Barnett v. Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

June 12, 2013

Benjamin Barnett, Petitioner
v.
Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, Respondent

Submitted: April 19, 2013

BEFORE: HONORABLE RENÉE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge HONORABLE ANNE E. COVEY, Judge

OPINION

RENÉE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge

Benjamin Barnett (Requester) petitions for review of the Final Determination of the Office of Open Records (OOR) dismissing his appeal (OOR Appeal), without addressing the merits, from the Department of Public Welfare's (DPW) denial of Requester's Right-to-Know Law[1] (RTKL) Request (Request) because the "[a]ppeal failed to address agency grounds for denial of access to records."[2] (Final Determination.) Requester argues on appeal that the OOR erred by summarily dismissing the OOR Appeal when he satisfied the statutory requirements and specifically addressed the grounds stated by DPW in denying the Request.

The certified record in this matter reveals that on June 8, 2012, Requester filed the Request, via email, with DPW seeking access to the following information:

1. Data or Documents prepared since January 1, 2008 that report, discuss, or otherwise relate to data on phone calls to the County Assistance Office(s), Statewide Customer Service Center(s) or the Philadelphia Customer Service Center, including but not limited to, caller wait times, calls answered, calls unanswered due to system overflow, calls not able to be placed into a queue, and calls rerouted to the District Offices;
2. Data or Documents prepared since January 1, 2008 that report, discuss, or otherwise relate to in-person wait times at the County Assistance Office(s);
3. Data or documents prepared since January 1, 2008 that report, discuss, or otherwise relate to the reasons for the County Assistance Office(s) application denials, including but not limited to, the specific reasons for the denials and the specific documents missing to justify any code 042 denials;
4. Data or documents prepared since January 1, 2008 that report, discuss, or otherwise relate to trouble tickets resolved by the District Offices, including but not limited to, trouble tickets sent to the Philadelphia County Assistance Office(s) by the Philadelphia Customer Service Center;
5. Data or documents prepared since January 1, 2008 that report, discuss, or otherwise relate to the SAR Corrective Action Plan for Philadelphia County;
6. Data or documents prepared since January 1, 2008 that report, discuss, or otherwise relate to the "PA9-SP reports", including but not limited to, the reports themselves;
7. Data or documents prepared since January 1, 2008 that report, discuss, or otherwise relate to the "Consolidated Applications Report — Approved Applications", including but not limited to, the reports themselves; and
8. Data or documents prepared since January 1, 2008 that report, discuss, or otherwise relate to "Rejection Analysis" of applications in the County Assistance Office(s), including but not limited to, the timeliness or time frame(s) of such rejections or denials.

(Request at 1-2, R.R. at 19a-20a.) After seeking additional time to respond, DPW notified Requester by a 13-page letter dated July 16, 2012, that the Request was granted, in part, and denied, in part (Response).[3] (DPW Response at 1-13, R.R. at 21a-33a.) Therein, in response to each of the eight paragraphs of the Request, DPW set forth detailed reasons for denying the requested information based upon specific provisions of the RTKL and both state and federal statutes and regulations. (DPW Response at 1-13, R.R. at 21a-33a.) With respect to paragraphs 1 and 4 of the Request, DPW also referred Requester to numerous authorities listed in Attachment A to its Response as additional support for the denial of the information sought in these paragraphs.[4] (DPW Response at 2, 7, R.R. at 22a, 27a; Attachment A – Laws Protecting Records About DPW Clients, R.R. at 34a.) DPW further advised Requester that, because of the breadth of the Request, DPW was including "Omnibus Responses" in order to avoid waiver of any defenses on appeal due to a failure to ...


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