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Pennsylvania Settlement Agreement Ordered Disclosed for Involvement of Public Funds Disbursement

Pennsylvania's Lower Saucon Township (Township) appealed a court order requiring them to produce for inspection a settlement agreement resulting from a federal suit against its local police. The court affirmed the order for production because the agreement involved disbursement of public funds.

John Werner filed a federal civil rights action against the police department in 1991, and settled out of court through the Township's insurance carrier. The settlement provided for strict nondisclosure of the terms and the Township paid a $5,000 deductible to the carrier.

The Morning Call newspaper requested to view the agreement and the Township refused. The newspaper then sought disclosure through the trial court and joined Werner as a party. The Township and Werner argued that the agreement was not public record under the Pennsylvania Right to Know Act (Act). The court ordered production of the document because the agreement required the disbursement of public funds and was a decision affecting Werner's rights. The Township appealed to the Second Division for the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, arguing that the funds were not paid directly to Werner and that, under the Rules of Civil Procedure, The Morning Call had failed to prove that funds were disbursed to Werner.

On appeal, the Second Division maintained jurisdiction because the federal suit was settled without an order from the court. The court held that the Rules of Civil Procedure did not apply to determinations under the Act and declined to rule on whether the decision affected Werner's rights because the agreement was public record regardless to whom the funds were paid since it dealt with the disbursement of public funds. See: Morning Call v. Lower Saucon Township, 156 Pa.Cmwlth. 397, 627 A.2d 297 (Pa. Commw. 1993).

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Related legal case

Morning Call v. Lower Saucon Township