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Pennsylvania Supreme Court Upholds Right-to-Know Law on Public Records

On May 29, 2012, Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the Right-to-Know Law (RTKL), which generally provides access to public records of a Commonwealth or local agency.

Gretchen Wintermantel, a reporter for the Scranton Times Tribune, used the RTKL to have access to and copies of all names and bids submitted to SWB Yankees and the Stadium Authority for a concessionaire contract at the stadium. The open records officer denied the request on behalf of the Stadium Authority. The records were kept by SWB Yankees, a third-party contracted agency, which the solicitor concluded was not performing a governmental function on behalf of the Stadium Authority.

Wintermantel appealed to the Office of Open Records (OOR) that as Stadium Authority's agent, it is a public business and subject to the RTKL. The OOR considers the Stadium as a local government agency and directed it to provide the requested information.

SWB Yankees appealed to the Common Plea Court, where Judge Terrence R. Nealon, stated the RTKL is to have broader and easier access to records relating to the activities of government agencies and contractors. He indicated that the public has legitimate interest in concessionaire contracts. The competing bids received for the food service contracts relate to the functions of government agencies and thus subject to the RTKL.

SWB Yankees appealed to the Commonwealth Court which affirmed the lower court's decision. They then appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The Supreme Court cited that the Stadium Authority performs for the benefit of the general public, which is in the scope of government function. Since SWB Yankees, as Stadium Authority's agent, operates the ball park for the public benefit, this very essence is defined by the statute as governmental function. The Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court's decision. See: SWB Yankees v. Wintermantel, 45 A.3d 1029 (Pa. 2012).

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