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Pennsylvania State Police v. Grove

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

June 20, 2017

PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE, Appellant
v.
MICHELLE GROVE, Appellee

          ARGUED: September 14, 2016

         Appeal from the Order of the Commonwealth Court dated July 7, 2015 at No. 1146 CD 2014 affirming in part, reversing in part and remanding in part the Final Determination of the Office of Open Records at No. AP 2014-0828 dated June 17, 2014.

          SAYLOR, C.J., BAER, TODD, DONOHUE, DOUGHERTY, WECHT, MUNDY, JJ.

          OPINION

          DOUGHERTY, JUSTICE

         We granted discretionary review to consider whether video components of motor vehicle recordings (MVRs) created by appellant Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) are exempt from disclosure to the public as criminal investigative records under the Right-to-Know Law, 65 P.S. §67.101-67.3104 (RTKL) or the Criminal History Record Information Act, 18 Pa.C.S. §§9101-9183 (CHRIA). We also consider whether these recordings implicate provisions of the Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act, 18 Pa.C.S. §§5701-5782 (Wiretap Act). The Commonwealth Court held MVRs generally are public records subject to disclosure, and affirmed in part the decision of the Office of Open Records (OOR) directing PSP to provide MVRs to appellee Michelle Grove (Grove). The Commonwealth Court also reversed in part, remanding the matter to the OOR with instructions for redaction of the audio portions of the MVRs before disclosure. We now affirm in part and reverse in part.

         I. Background

         Section 301 of the RTKL provides Commonwealth agencies like PSP must provide copies of all public records upon request. 65 P.S. §67.301. On March 24, 2014, Grove made a request to PSP pursuant to Section 301 for "a copy of the police report, and any video/audio recordings taken by the officers" at the scene of a two-vehicle accident in Potter Township, Centre County, Pennsylvania.[1] Grove v. Pa. State Police, 2014 WL 2801575, at *1 (Pa. Off. Open Rec., June 2014). The recordings at issue are two MVRs that were generated when two PSP troopers, Trooper Vanorden and Trooper Thomas, responded to the scene of the accident. Affidavit of William Rozier at ¶¶ 10-11.

         On May 1, 2014, PSP, by its Deputy Open Records Officer, Lissa Ferguson, sent a letter response to Grove's request. The response provided Grove with a Public Information Release Report, which revealed one driver in the accident received a citation for failing to yield the right-of-way when entering or crossing a roadway (75 Pa.C.S. §3324), and the other driver received a citation for failure to use seatbelt (75 Pa.C.S. §4581). Public Information Release Report; and Rozier Affidavit at ¶ 20. PSP's letter response also informed Grove her request for the MVRs was denied on the basis the recordings were exempt from any public disclosure as: (1) "criminal investigative records" under Section 708(b)(16) of the RTKL, [2] and "investigative information" under Section 9106(c)(4) of CHRIA;[3] and (2) records "pertaining to audio recordings, telephone or radio transmissions received by dispatch personnel, including 911 recordings, " under Section 708(b)(18)(i) of the RTKL.[4] PSP included a verification with its letter response, also executed by Lissa Ferguson (the Ferguson Verification). The Ferguson Verification did not include a description of the MVRs or the nature or purpose of the recordings. In addressing the request for release of the MVRs, the Ferguson Verification concluded the MVRs fell under the exemption for "audio recordings, telephone or radio transmissions received by emergency dispatch personnel, including 911 recordings" in Section 708(b)(18)(i) of the RTKL. Ferguson Verification at ¶ 6. The Ferguson Verification did not reference any other section of the RTKL or CHRIA with respect to the MVRs.[5]

         On May 24, 2014, Grove filed an appeal to the OOR from PSP's letter response denying the release of the MVRs. The OOR invited the parties to supplement the record. On May 30, 2014, PSP provided an unsworn position statement from PSP's counsel, Jordan G. Spahr, Esquire, which incorporated the Ferguson Verification by reference. The PSP alleged in its position statement the MVRs are criminal investigative records, and thus exempt from disclosure under Section 708(b)(16) of the RTKL. Grove, 2014 WL 2801575 at *1; see also PSP Position Statement at 1-2.[6] Accordingly, PSP's position statement and incorporated Ferguson Verification collectively provided two bases for refusal to release the MVRs to Grove: (1) Section 708(b)(16) of the RTKL as criminal investigative records; and (2) Section 708 (b)(18)(i) of the RTKL as a record received by emergency dispatch.

         Grove also submitted additional materials in support of her request, including her own position statement and two photographs of the accident scene, depicting the site plus skid marks from the collision and the damage to one of the vehicles. Grove, 2014 WL 2801575 at *1. In her position statement, Grove noted she arrived at the scene of the accident before the troopers and remained there until after the officers left. She recounts her observations at the scene of the accident, including her own description of the conversations that occurred between the officers and the drivers and bystanders. Position Statement of Michelle Grove, dated May 30, 2014. Grove's photographs show the accident scene as a public street in front of residential homes. Id.

         On June 17, 2014, the OOR issued its Final Determination, directing PSP to provide complete copies of the MVRs to Grove. Grove, 2014 WL 2801575 at *3. The OOR determined the Ferguson Verification contained conclusory statements denying disclosure and was thus insufficient to show the recordings included transmissions received by emergency dispatch personnel as required for exemption under Section 708(b)(18)(i) of the RTKL. Id., citing Office of the Governor v. Scolforo, 65 A.3d 1095, 1103 (Pa. Cmwlth 2013) ("[A] generic determination or conclusory statements are not sufficient to justify the exemption of public records."). The OOR further noted, to the extent PSP argued in its unsworn position statement submitted by PSP's counsel that the MVRs are exempt as criminal investigative records under Section 708(b)(16) of the RTKL, the unsworn statement was not a competent basis for exemption. Id., citing Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh v. Van Osdol, 40 A.3d 209 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2012) (holding statements of counsel not competent evidence). The OOR concluded PSP failed to submit any evidence the MVRs were investigative records and thus failed to meet its burden they were exempt from disclosure under either Section 708(b)(16) or Section 708(b)(18)(i) of the RTKL.

         PSP appealed to the Commonwealth Court, arguing the MVRs qualify as "criminal investigative records" and are therefore exempt from disclosure under Section 708(b)(16) of the RTKL, and also renewing its argument from the May 1, 2014 letter response that the records are exempt as "investigative records" under Section 9106(c)(4) of CHRIA.[7] PSP further argued, for the first time, disclosure of the MVRs under the RTKL would violate the Wiretap Act. Additionally, in light of the OOR's final determination that PSP failed to meet its burden to prove the MVRs were exempt as criminal investigative records under Section 708(b)(16) of the RTKL, PSP sought leave to supplement the record with a sworn affidavit of its Open Records Officer, William Rozier (the Rozier Affidavit), in further support of that argument.

         The Commonwealth Court first considered PSP's request to supplement the record with the Rozier Affidavit. The court recognized it exercises plenary, de novo review of OOR decisions involving Commonwealth agencies, such as PSP. Pennsylvania State Police v. Grove, 119 A.3d, 1102, 1105 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2015), citing Bowling v. Office of Open Records, 75 A.3d 453, 477 (Pa. 2013) (standard of review of appeals from determinations made by appeals officers under the RTKL is de novo and the scope of review is broad or plenary) (additional citations omitted). Considering its de novo standard of review, the court noted "[w]here the record before OOR is inadequate to determine whether requested material is exempt from disclosure, this Court has discretion to permit a party to enlarge the record on appeal and to consider additional evidence." Id., citing Bowling, 75 A.3d at 476; Carey v. Pa. Dep't of Corrs, 61 A.3d 367, 371 n.3, 377 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2013) (additional evidence may be taken to ensure sufficient record for adequate appellate review). The court noted the record as presented before the OOR did not contain any information regarding the MVRs, including their content or the circumstances under which they are created, and the PSP's supplemental Rozier Affidavit did contain such details.

         Considering whether supplementing the record was proper, the court first acknowledged PSP was not permitted to ignore its burden before the OOR to present evidence to support its position. Id. at 1106, citing Pennsylvania Tpk. Comm'n v. Murphy, 25 A.3d 1294, 1297-98 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2011) (denying supplementation of record on an appeal as an attempt to obtain "a proverbial second bite of the apple" where there was no apparent reason for the failure to submit the additional affidavits to OOR). However, the court acknowledged PSP had relied on prior decisions of the OOR in responding to Grove's records request, and those prior decisions held MVRs were exempt from disclosure under Section 708(b)(16) of the RTKL as criminal investigative records.[8] Id. The court noted PSP's reliance on these prior decisions was not misplaced, as those cases had not been overruled at the time of PSP's response. Id. at 1106. The court thus permitted PSP to supplement the record with the Rozier Affidavit Id.

         The Rozier Affidavit describes the specific content and information surrounding the MVRs at issue as well as the policies and procedures surrounding MVRs generally. With respect to the specific MVRs at issue in this matter, the Rozier Affidavit provided the MVRs were created when Trooper Vanorden and Trooper Thomas arrived on the scene of an accident that occurred on March 22, 2014, at 1:42 p.m., or "1342 hours." Rozier Affidavit at ¶¶ 9-11. The MVRs do not depict the accident itself. Id. at ¶ 19. Trooper Vanorden's MVR was recorded from his unmarked vehicle and contains video only. Id. at ¶ 10. The MVR shows Trooper Vanorden speaking to the individuals involved in the accident, examining the vehicle damage, directing one of the drivers to move his vehicle to a safer area, and relaying information to Trooper Thomas upon his arrival. Id. Trooper Thomas's MVR was recorded from his marked vehicle, and contains both video and audio recordings of his interviews with the two drivers, as well as bystanders at the scene. Id. at ¶ 11. The Rozier Affidavit notes the investigation into the accident was conducted by Trooper Thomas, and states the "investigative information" on the MVR specifically includes Trooper Thomas's conversations with the operators involved and the bystanders, as he obtained their statements about how the accident occurred. Id. at ¶¶ 9, 19.

         The Rozier Affidavit also sets forth information about the use and procedures surrounding MVRs generally. It provides MVRs are "typically activated when a trooper activates his or her emergency lights or siren." Rozier Affidavit at ¶ 14. The affidavit also references a PSP internal regulation, known as Field Regulation 6-12 (FR 6-12), which sets forth enumerated situations in which MVRs are to be used as follows:

Utilization: Members operating MVR-equipped vehicles shall endeavor to record the following types of incidents:
(1) Traffic and criminal enforcement stops.
(2) In-progress Vehicle and Crime Code violations.
(3) Police pursuits.
(4) Field interviews, interrogations, and intoxication testing.
(5) Patrol vehicle travel and movements when emergency lights and/or siren are activated.
(6) Fatal crash or major crime scenes, as necessary, to document the scene.
(7) Traffic safety and sobriety checkpoints, at the discretion of the checkpoint supervisor.
(8) Prisoner transports
(9) Searches of vehicles or persons.
(10) Any other incident the member deems appropriate while acting in the performance of their official duties.

Id. at ¶¶ 15-16. The Rozier Affidavit further provides MVRs are retained and destroyed by PSP on a normal schedule, but will not be destroyed when there is an anticipation the records are going to used "in civil, criminal, quasi-criminal, forfeiture, administrative enforcement or disciplinary proceedings." Id. at ¶ 17.

         The Commonwealth Court first addressed PSP's argument the MVRs are criminal investigative records exempt from disclosure under Section 708(b)(16) of the RTKL and investigative records exempt under Section 9106(c)(4) of CHRIA because they contain information about an accident which resulted in "summary criminal offenses, " i.e., 75 Pa.C.S. §3324 (failure to yield the right-of-way when entering or crossing roadway) and 75 Pa.C.S. §4581 (failure to use seatbelt). 119 A.3d at 1108. The court noted information documenting the actions of Commonwealth agencies, including PSP, is presumed to be publicly accessible under the RTKL, unless an exemption applies. Grove, 119 A.3d at 1107, citing 65 P.S. §§67.102, 67.305; Pennsylvania State Police v. McGill, 83 A.3d 476, 479 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2014) (en banc); Carey, 61 A.3d at 371-72. The court acknowledged PSP relied on Section 708 of the RTKL, which exempts public records from disclosure if they relate to or result in a "criminal investigation, including . . . (ii) Investigative materials, notes, correspondence, videos and reports." 65 P.S. §67.708(b)(16). The court recognized the RTKL does not define what constitutes "investigative" materials. Grove, 119 A.3d at 1108. The court further acknowledged PSP relied on Section 9106(c)(4) of CHRIA for exemption of the records, which provides generally that "[i]nvestigative and treatment information shall not be disseminated" to any individual. Id., quoting 18 Pa.C.S. §9106(c)(4). The court noted CHRIA defines "investigative information" as "information assembled as a result of the performance of any inquiry, formal or informal, into a criminal incident or an allegation of criminal wrongdoing and may include modus operandi information." Id. quoting 18 Pa.C.S. §9102.

         The court recognized PSP had the burden to demonstrate by a preponderance of evidence which of its records is exempt from disclosure, noting exemptions from disclosure are to be narrowly construed. Id., citing McGill, 83 A.3d at 479, Carey, 61 A.3d at 373. The court further held "the mere fact that a record has some connection to a criminal proceeding, does not automatically exempt it under Section 708(b)(16) of the RTKL or CHRIA." Id. at 1108, citing Coley v. Phila. Dist. Attorney's Office, 77 A.3d 694, 697-98 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2013) (although witness statements were exempt as investigative under RTKL and CHRIA, immunity agreement with witness was not exempt unless shown to be investigative information). The court concluded that, to be exempt, records must be created to report a criminal investigation, document evidence in a criminal investigation, or set forth steps carried out in a criminal investigation. See id. at 1108 (collecting cases).

         In considering the only evidence regarding the content of the MVRs - the Rozier Affidavit - the Commonwealth Court determined "MVRs are created to document troopers' performance of their duties in responding to emergencies and in their interactions with members of the public, not merely or primarily to document, assemble or report on evidence of a crime or possible crime." Id. Moreover, citing PSP's FR 6-12, the court noted instances in which MVRs do not contain investigative content include: "directions to motorists in a traffic stop or at an accident scene, police pursuits, and prisoner transports." Id., citing Rozier Affidavit at ¶¶ 10, 16. The court thus concluded "MVRs themselves are therefore not investigative material . . . exempt from disclosure under Section 708(b)(16) of the RTKL or CHRIA." Grove, 119 A.3d at 1108.

         The court then closely examined the MVRs at issue in this case, commencing with Trooper Vanorden's MVR - which contains video-only. Trooper Vanorden's MVR depicts the trooper observing the scene, speaking to individuals, and directing the vehicles. The court found this video depiction did not consist of investigative material, and thus Trooper Vanorden's MVR was not exempt from disclosure under the RTKL or CHRIA. Id. at 1109. The court next examined Trooper Thomas's MVR. The court held MVRs can be considered to contain "investigative information" exempt from disclosure if they contain "witness interviews, interrogations, intoxication testing and other investigative work." Id. at 1109. The court further found the audio portion of Trooper Thomas's MVR included witness interviews, and determined this audio aspect contained investigative information exempt from disclosure under the RTKL and CHRIA. Id. at 1109-1110, citing Rozier Affidavit at ¶¶ 11, 16. The court then acknowledged Section 706 of the RTKL specifically provides a mechanism to redact exempt information from an otherwise non-exempt record as follows:

If an agency determines that a public record . . . contains information which is subject to access as well as information which is not subject to access, the agency's response shall grant access to the information which is subject to access and deny access to the information which is not subject to access. If the information which is not subject to access is an integral part of the public record . . . and cannot be separated, the agency shall redact from the record the information which is not subject to access and the response shall grant access to the information which is subject to access. The agency many not deny access to the record if the information which is not subject to access is able to be redacted.

Id. at 1109, quoting 65 P.S. §67.706. Accordingly, the court held PSP was entitled to redact the audio portion of Trooper Thomas's MVR containing investigative material, but was not permitted to withhold the entire MVR. Id.

         The Commonwealth Court also considered PSP's argument any disclosure of MVRs - redacted or unredacted -would violate the Wiretap Act.[9] The court noted the Wiretap Act does not apply to oral communications where the speaker has notice of the recording. Grove, 119 A.3d 1110, citing 18 Pa.C.S §5702 (defining "[o]ral communication" as "[A]ny oral communication uttered by a person possessing an expectation that such communication is not subject to interception under circumstances justifying such expectation"); Commonwealth v. Henlen 564 A.2d 905, 906-07 (Pa. 1989); Gunderman v. UCBR, 505 A.2d 1112, 1115 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1986). The court further noted the troopers knew they were being recorded by their own MVR equipment, and accordingly, the Wiretap Act does not prevent release of that portion of the audio recording that captured the troopers' communications with each other. Id. at 1110-11. The court noted, however, there was no evidence to show whether the citizens to whom Trooper Thomas spoke in that audio portion had notice they were being recorded, or whether they had reasonable expectation of privacy in those conversations. The court therefore remanded to the OOR to determine if the witnesses and drivers knew they were being recorded, and further directed that PSP may redact from the MVR any audio portions that included statements of private citizens who had no notice of the recording. Id. at 1111.[10]

         PSP filed a petition for allowance of appeal, and this Court granted review of the following questions:[11]

(1) Is a video, created as a result of a Pennsylvania State Trooper initiating a criminal investigation, exempt from disclosure under Section 708(b)(16) of the [RTKL]?
(2) Is a video, created as a result of a Pennsylvania State Trooper initiating a criminal investigation, exempt from disclosure under the [CHRIA]?
(3) Is a video depicting troopers at a crash scene in which citations were issued "speaking with the operators of the vehicles, " "observing the crash scene and the damage to the vehicles, " and "directing the operator of the truck involved in the accident to move his vehicle to a safer area, " considered investigative materials pursuant to Section 708(b)(16) of the [RTKL]?
(4) Is a video depicting troopers at a crash scene in which citations were issued "speaking with the operators of the vehicles, " "observing the crash scene and the damage to the vehicles, " and "directing the operator of the truck involved in the accident to move his vehicle to a safer area, " considered investigative information pursuant to the [CHRIA]?
(5)Do provisions of the [Wiretap] Act apply to the audio component of [MVRs]?
(6) Should this case be remanded for further factual findings to determine whether modifying [an MVR], as required by the Commonwealth Court, essentially creates a record in violation of Section 705 of the [RTKL]?

Pennsylvania State Police v. Grove, 133 A.3d 292, 293 (Pa. 2016).[12] All of the questions presented are questions of law. As such our applicable standard of review is de novo, and the scope of our review is plenary. See Bowling, 75 A.3d at 477 (standard of review of OOR's decision is de novo and scope of review plenary); see also Levy v. Senate of Pa., 65 A.3d 361 (Pa. 2013) (applying de novo standard of review and plenary scope of review in appeal from Senate Appeals Officer's decision regarding RTKL request).

         II. Disclosure of MVRs under RTKL and CHRIA

         A. Arguments

         The first four issues presented by appellant PSP are intertwined and involve whether MVRs generally, and the specific MVRs in this matter, are exempt from disclosure under Section 708(b)(16) of the RTKL (agency records "relating to or resulting in a criminal investigation, including complaints of potential criminal conduct other than a private criminal complaint" and "investigative materials, notes, correspondence, videos and reports" exempt) or Section 9106(c)(4) of CHRIA ("investigative and treatment information" protected). PSP argues the Commonwealth Court erroneously created a blanket rule that MVRs are public records, subject to redaction, in violation of the plain language of both RTKL and CHRIA. PSP seeks a contrary ruling that MVRs are exempt from disclosure pursuant to Section 708(b)(16) of the RTKL. In support of this argument, PSP submits in order for the exemption to apply, two elements must be met: (1) there must be a criminal investigation, and (2) the requested record must be related to that criminal investigation. PSP claims both elements were met with respect to the MVRs in this matter and the Commonwealth Court improperly allowed disclosure of the video portions.

         PSP first argues the troopers conducted an investigation at the scene to determine if any violations of the Vehicle Code occurred. PSP notes Section 708 (b)(16) of the RTKL does not require the investigation actually result in the issuance of citations or arrests in order to preclude disclosure, but rather, a record must be created, i.e. an MVR, that is related to or results in a criminal investigation. Brief of Appellant at 16, citing 65 P.S. §67.708(b)(16). PSP notes the RTKL does not provide definitions for the phrase "criminal investigation, " or what information "relates" to a criminal investigation, and therefore cites the Commonwealth Court's analysis in Department of Health v. Office of Open Records, 4 A.3d 803 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2010), which involved the disclosure of "noncriminal investigative materials, " pursuant to Section 708(b)(17) of the RTKL.[13] In defining what constitutes a "noncriminal investigation" as used in subsection (b)(17) the Dep't of Health court considered definitions of "investigation" in Blacks' Law Dictionary and Webster's Third New International Dictionary. Relying on those definitions, PSP submits "the term 'investigation' means a systematic or searching inquiry, a detailed examination, or an official probe." Brief of Appellant at 17, quoting Dep't of Health, 4 A.3d at 810-11. PSP argues that, because the statutory structure of Section 708(b)(16), relating to criminal investigations, is similar to the structure of Section 708(b)(17) relating to noncriminal investigations, the definition of "investigation" articulated by the court in Dep't of Health applies equally to Section 708(b)(16). PSP further notes because Section 708(b)(16) expressly includes "videos" as documents under the criminal investigation exemption, the General Assembly specifically intended to protect MVRs. PSP concludes a "criminal" investigation occurred in this matter because the troopers issued citations under Sections 3324 and 4581 of the Vehicle Code based on the statements and accounts of the individuals at the accident scene. Brief of Appellant at 18.

         PSP next turns to the second element it claims must be met for an MVR to be exempt from disclosure, i.e. whether the record is "relat[ed]" to the criminal investigation." Id. at 19, citing 65 P.S. §67.708(b)(16). PSP again notes the RTKL does not define the term "relating" or "related" and relies on dictionary definitions of the term "relate" as "to stand in some relation; to pertain; refer; to bring into association with or connection with . . ." and the term "related" as "[s]tanding in relation; connected; allied; akin." Id., quoting Black's Law Dictionary 1288 (6th ed. 1990). PSP thus concludes both Trooper Vanorden's and Trooper Thomas's MVRs are related to a criminal investigation because they were created to document the troopers' investigation of the accident. Id. PSP asserts it is tasked with "enforce[ing] the laws regulating the use of the highways of this Commonwealth." Id. at 18, quoting 71 P.S. §250(g). PSP thus claims an investigation into whether a violation of the Vehicle Code occurred is an official "criminal investigation, " and Trooper Thomas determined citations were warranted based upon the statements obtained during that criminal investigation. Accordingly, PSP argues the Commonwealth Court erred in its finding that "[t]he mere fact that a record has some connection to a criminal proceeding does not automatically exempt it under Section 708(b)(16) of the RTKL or CHRIA." Id. at 20, quoting Grove, 119 A.3d at 1108 (emphasis supplied by PSP). PSP asserts the Commonwealth Court's conclusion the MVRs are not exempt from disclosure was erroneous because there is no indication in the statute the exemption applies only when depicting an actual "criminal proceeding."[14] Id. PSP argues the only analysis necessary under the statute is whether the record is "related" to a criminal investigation. PSP concludes all that is required for exemption under Section 708(b)(16) of the RTKL is a "connection" between the video and the criminal investigation. Id. at 22-23.

         PSP further argues MVRs are exempt from disclosure under the plain language of Sections 9106(c)(4) and 9102 of CHRIA, which provide generally, that "[i]nvestigative and treatment information shall not be disseminated, " and define "investigative information" as information "assembled as a result of the performance of any inquiry, formal or informal, into a criminal incident or an allegation of criminal wrongdoing and may include modus operandi information."[15] PSP further claims the analysis of whether material is protected under CHRIA requires only an examination of whether the "information was assembled as the result of any inquiry . . . into a criminal incident or an allegation of wrongdoing" and thus asserts MVRs are exempt from disclosure regardless of whether they include any "investigative content." PSP asserts the MVRs at issue were directly connected to the initiation of a specific criminal investigation because the responding troopers ultimately issued citations for traffic violations. Id. at 26.

         Finally, PSP argues the Commonwealth Court created a per se rule that MVRs are public records always subject to disclosure. Id. at 27, citing Grove, 119 A.3d at 1108. PSP acknowledges the court stated FR-6-12 "demonstrates that the MVRs are created to document troopers' performance of their duties in responding to emergencies and in their interactions with members of the public, not merely or primarily to document, assemble or report on evidence of a crime or possible crime." Id. at 28-29, quoting Grove, 119 A.3d at 1108. However, PSP argues the Commonwealth Court failed to consider that, when a trooper is "responding to an emergenc[y]" or "interact[ing] with members of the public, " an MVR is created "because the trooper is responding to the scene of a potential criminal incident to investigate it or that [a] member of the public, with whom the trooper is interacting, is suspected of committing a criminal violation." Id. at 29, citing Rozier Affidavit. According to PSP, MVRs are thus always "related" to a criminal investigation and exempt from disclosure under Section 708 (b)(16) of the RTKL and include exempt "investigative information" under Sections 9102 and 9106(a)(4) of CHRIA. PSP asserts we should therefore reverse the Commonwealth Court's decision allowing disclosure of the MVRs.[16]

         Appellee Grove argues the Commonwealth Court correctly analyzed the nature and purpose of MVRs when it stated they "are created to document troopers' performance of their duties in responding to emergencies and in their interactions with members of the public, not merely or primarily to document, assemble or report on evidence of a crime or possible crime." Brief of Appellee at 7, quoting Grove, 119 A.3d at 1108. Addressing the content of the MVRs in this case, Grove submits a routine response to a traffic accident does not rise to the level of a criminal investigation such that the resulting recordings are always exempted from disclosure under the RTKL. Grove first notes Trooper Vanorden's MVR contains video only of the trooper interacting with the drivers and directing them where to park - the same scene any passerby would observe - and thus does not contain protected investigative information. With respect to Trooper Thomas's MVR, Grove notes that while the MVR may contain some information that could potentially be useful in a summary traffic prosecution; such potential use does not alone raise the MVR to a protected record containing information "related to a criminal investigation." Grove asserts the MVRs operate automatically to record what happens to be in view of the camera, without a specific purpose. Grove submits the MVRs are thus distinguishable from other recordings such as an accident reconstruction or witness interview, which are specifically made for purposes of a criminal investigation and subsequent prosecution.

         Grove further warns adoption of PSP's position would exempt any and all MVRs automatically created when a state trooper pulls over a motorist for a traffic violation and such broad application would diminish the public's ability to scrutinize its public officials in their interactions with citizens. Grove notes the routine duties of state troopers are not per se protected as investigative, and thus the Commonwealth Court correctly determined the video portion of these MVRs must be released upon request. Brief of Appellee at 10, citing McGill, 83 A.3d at 479 (exemptions from disclosure must be narrowly construed under RTKL, which is meant to promote public access to government information).

         With respect to the application of CHRIA, Grove argues in order for a record to be exempt from disclosure under CHRIA, it must be "assembled" as a result of an investigation into criminal wrongdoing. Id. at 11, citing 18 Pa.C.S. §9102 (defining "investigative information"). Grove submits MVRs document police activity whenever the lights and sirens are activated, and PSP does not "assemble" investigative information when creating them.

         The OOR filed an amicus brief in support of appellee Grove, in which it argues the RTKL and CHRIA do not provide a general prohibition on the release of MVRs, and such records ordinarily should be publicly accessible. The OOR acknowledges that while there may be instances in which a MVR will contain a record of a criminal investigation - for example, when the MVR apparatus records the actual sale of illegal drugs - the video portion of the MVRs in this case of a routine traffic accident did not document a criminal investigation, and thus does not qualify as an investigative record exempt from disclosure under either the RTKL or CHRIA. The OOR argues the MVRs were created to document police officers' dealings with the public, and the tangential connection to an infraction or crime does not raise the recordings to the level of protected investigative content.[17]

         B. Discussion

         Whether the RTKL or CHRIA preclude disclosure of MVRs recorded in response to an accident presents a question of statutory construction, which is a pure question of law over which our standard of review is de novo and our scope of review is plenary. Lynnebrook & Woodbrook Assocs., L.P. v. Borough of Millersville, 963 A.2d 1261, 1262 n.2 (Pa. 2008). Under the Statutory Construction Act, our objective "is to ascertain and effectuate the intention of the General Assembly." 1 Pa.C.S. §1921(a).

         i. The RTKL

         The RTKL requires Commonwealth agencies to provide access to public records upon request. 65 P.S. §67.301 ("A Commonwealth agency shall provide public records in accordance with this act."). Section 102 of the RTKL defines a "public record" as: "A record, including a financial record, of a Commonwealth or local agency that: (1) is not exempt under section 708; (2) is not exempt from being disclosed under any other Federal or State law or regulation or judicial order or decree; or (3) is not protected by a privilege." 65 P.S. §67.102. A "record" is further defined under the RTKL as:

Information, regardless of physical form or characteristics, that documents a transaction or activity of an agency and that is created, received or retained pursuant to law or in connection with a transaction, business or activity of the agency. The term includes a document, paper, letter, map, book, tape, photograph, film or sound recording, information stored or maintained electronically and a data-processed or image-processed document.

Id. There is no dispute that MVRs are public records of an agency as defined in the RTKL and thus subject to public disclosure unless some exemption applies. We consider whether MVRs generally, and the video portions of Trooper Vanorden and Trooper Thomas's MVRs in this matter specifically, qualify under an enumerated exemption to disclosure described in ...


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