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Pennsylvania DOC's Nondisclosure of Documents Regarding Chemical Incident Upheld by Court

Pennsylvania state prisoner Christopher Heffran petitioned for review of the Department of Corrections' (DOC) non-production of requested documents regarding his asthma attack. The DOC stated that the requested documents were not public records under the Right to Know Act (Act). The court affirmed the DOC's adjudication.

Heffran worked in the shoe shop at SCI Graterford where he was incarcerated. He allegedly suffered an asthma attack in 2004 and was escorted to the infirmary by shop foreman John Mellinger. He later requested several documents related to the incident by the DOC's Right to Know Officer. She denied production of most of the documents, some as non-existent and others as not being public record, and stated the documents did not fall under the "decisions" exception of the Act. She did provide the account receipt for the purchase of the ventilation fan and installation request and the Right to Know Chemical Sheet, which Heffran refused to sign because he allegedly was not provided with the appropriate information.

Heffran petitioned for review, claiming that the DOC erred in finding the incident reports were not public record because they did not fall under the "decisions" category, that the chemical sheets related to the DOC's fiscal governance, and that the DOC's claims that the chemical sheets constituted security threats were unfounded.

The Second Division for the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania held that incident reports did not constitute an essential component of the decision to treat prisoners, that the chemical sheets were not related to the fiscal governance of the DOC and that such sheets could provide toxic chemical compound information, and thus affirmed the denial of Heffran's document request. See: Heffran v. Department of Corrections, 878 A.2d 985 (Pa. Commw. 2005), appeal denied.

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Related legal case

Heffran v. Department of Corrections