ARGUED: May 14, 2019
from the Order of the Commonwealth Court at No. 1982 CD 2015
dated May 10, 2018, Affirming the Order of the Dauphin County
Court of Common Pleas, Civil Division, at No. 2015-CV-4163-MP
dated September 24, 2015
SAYLOR, C.J., BAER, TODD, DONOHUE, DOUGHERTY, WECHT, MUNDY,
granted allocatur to decide whether a spreadsheet created by
the City of Harrisburg (the "City") to show the
receipt of funds from donors (the "donor
spreadsheet") to the Protect Harrisburg Legal Defense
Fund (the "Fund") constitutes a financial record as
defined in 65 P.S. § 67.102 of the Right-to-Know Law
("RTKL"), 65 P.S. §§
67.101-67.3104. City of Harrisburg v. Prince, 197
A.3d 1170 (Pa. 2018) (per curiam). As discussed herein,
although records that would disclose the identity of
individual donors are generally exempted from disclosure
under the RTKL, if those records may be characterized as
financial records, public access is statutorily required.
Because we hold that the Commonwealth Court erred in
concluding that the donor spreadsheet was not a financial
record, we reverse. However, in light of our decision in
Pennsylvania State Educ. Ass'n v. Commonwealth,
Department of Community and Economic Development, 148
A.3d 142 (Pa. 2016) ("PSEA II"), we hold
that the case must be remanded for the performance of a
balancing test to determine whether any of the donors'
personal information may be protected from access under
Article 1, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Accordingly, we remand to the Commonwealth Court for further
the RTKL, records in possession of a local agency are
generally presumed to be public records, subject to certain
exceptions. 65 P.S. § 67.305; see also id.
§ 67.102. Pursuant to section 701, "[u]nless
otherwise provided by law, a public record, legislative
record or financial record shall be accessible for inspection
and duplication in accordance with this act."
Id. § 67.701. However, if an agency determines
that a record which is subject to access contains information
that is not subject to access, the agency may redact the
information that is not subject to access. Id.
certain exceptions (or exemptions) apply to the general rule
that public records are subject to access. See id.
§ 67.708(b). Specifically, as relevant here, subsection
708(b) of the RTKL provides:
(b) Exceptions.--Except as provided in subsections
(c) and (d), the following are exempt from access by
a requester under this act:
* * *
(13) Records that would disclose the identity of an
individual who lawfully makes a donation to an
agency unless the donation is intended for or restricted to
providing remuneration or personal tangible benefit to a
named public official or employee of the agency, including
lists of potential donors compiled by an agency to pursue
donations, donor profile information or personal identifying
information relating to a donor.
65 P.S. § 67.708(b)(13) (emphasis added) (hereinafter,
the "donor exception"). Subsection 708(c), in turn,
(c) Financial records.--The exceptions set forth in
subsection (b) shall not apply to financial records,
except that an agency may redact that portion of a financial
record protected under subsection (b)(1), (2), (3), (4), (5),
(6), (16) or (17). An agency shall not disclose the identity
of an individual performing an undercover or covert law
Id. § 67.708(c) (emphasis added).
while records that would disclose the identities of
individual donors are generally exempted from public access,
id. § 67.708(b)(13), if those records may be
categorized as "financial records," they are
nonetheless subject to full disclosure (and may not be
redacted), regardless of whether they would reveal the
identities of individual donors, unless otherwise provided by
law. Id. § 67.708(c). For this reason, whether
a given public record is a financial record is potentially
outcome determinative in terms of the public's ability to
access and inspect it.
defined in section 102 of the RTKL, a financial record is:
(1) Any account, voucher or contract dealing with:
(i) the receipt or disbursement of funds by an agency; or
(ii) an agency's acquisition, use or disposal of
services, supplies, materials, equipment or property.
(2) The salary or other payments or expenses paid to an
officer or employee of an agency, including the name and
title of the officer or employee.
(3) A financial audit report. The term does not include work
papers underlying an audit.
Id. § 67.102.
February 25, 2015, Appellant Joshua Prince
("Prince") submitted a RTKL request to the City
seeking records related to the Fund, which the City created
to defray legal costs associated with defending challenges to
local firearms ordinances. Prince's request sought the
This is a request for all records, including, but not limited
to, financial records pursuant to [s]ection 102, since
January of 2015, relating to the US Law Shield, et al. v.
City of Harrisburg, et al. and Firearm Owners
Against Crime, et al. v. City of Harrisburg, et al.
[cases] including, but not limited to the following: (1) All
records, including, but not limited to, [the Fund]. ... As
provided for by [s]ection 102, this specifically includes,
but is not limited to, the names, addresses, and
amounts of any donations to/receipts by the City;
(2) All records, including, but not limited to, all financial
accounts and financial institutions utilized by the [City] in
relation to request (1); (3) All records, including, but not
limited to, contracts, communications, and billings from or
to Lavery, Faherty, Patterson or any other law firm or
attorney hired to review the legal issues relating to request
(1); and (4) Any other record in any way relating to the
current litigation specified above.
City of Harrisburg v. Prince, 186 A.3d 544, 548 (Pa.
Commw. 2018) (internal footnotes omitted).
February 26, 2015, citing subsection 708(b)(13) of the RTKL,
the City's records officer partially denied Prince's
request and, as relevant here, provided Prince with a
redacted donor list. It revealed the donation amounts and
dates but redacted the names, addresses, check numbers and
telephone numbers of the donors who contributed. Several days
later, the City provided Prince with an updated redacted
spreadsheet and also disclosed, by email, that it uses
Citizen's Bank for the Fund account.
appealed to the Office of Open Records ("OOR"). In
a letter dated March 12, 2015, the OOR responded by inviting
the parties to submit additional information and legal
argument within seven days. The OOR also advised the City
that it must notify any third parties of their right to
participate in the appeal and cautioned that a third
party's failure to participate "may be construed as
a waiver of objections regarding release of the requested
April 9, 2015, to more fully develop the record, the OOR
requested specific additional information from the City about
the Fund. In response, the City's Solicitor,
Neil Grover, explained that the Fund is (1) "a
subaccount/line item of the Police Protection Special Revenue
Fund (SPF) of the City"; (2) "all SPFs have their
own bank account. All expenditures from this fund are line
item appropriated by Council as per the normal budgeting
process"; (3) "all revenues received for this SPF
are donated directly to the City, deposited by Treasury
(checks are written to 'City Treasurer') and
accounted for in the City's General Ledger/accounting
system"; and (4) all of the donors on the redacted
spreadsheet are individuals, not corporations or other
response to the OOR directing the City to notify third
parties of their right to participate in the appeal, and to
Prince's demand for proof of such notification, the City
again cited subsection 708(b)(13). The City urged that the
notification requirement was inapplicable because donor
information was exempt from disclosure and therefore properly
redacted on the spreadsheet. In the alternative, the City
argued that even if subsection 708(b)(13) somehow did not
protect donor information on the spreadsheet from disclosure,
third party notification was unnecessary because the donor
spreadsheet was created by the City, not by a third
final determination, the OOR concluded that because the City
had failed to provide a sworn affidavit establishing
subsection 708(b)(13)'s applicability, it had therefore
failed to meet its burden of proof that the redacted
information was exempt from disclosure. Accordingly, the
OOR directed the City to supply Prince with the unredacted
donor spreadsheet within thirty days.
City filed a petition for review appealing the OOR's
final determination in the Dauphin County Court of Common
Pleas and subsequently supplemented the record with a sworn
affidavit from Solicitor Grover. The trial court reversed
the OOR's final order, concluding on the basis of this
affidavit that the City had met its burden of proving that