Eastburn and Gray Obtains Victory On Behalf of Stakeholders in Lehigh County
Eastburn and Gray recently obtained a victory on behalf of stakeholders throughout Lehigh County in McGowan v. Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, 161 CD 2014 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2014). In the precedential case, the Commonwealth Court partially vacated a decision by the Office of Open Records that allowed the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to withhold certain public records.
The records, which were requested under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law, relate to the Department’s recommendation to deny a petition that would afford the Upper Perkiomen Creek greater protections. A large coalition, including non-profits, local municipalities, and community members have long advocated to upgrade the waterway’s classification to help preserve the resource.
On appeal, the Commonwealth Court ordered the Office of Open Records to conduct an in camera review of the documents to determine whether they should be disclosed in whole or part. The holding affirms that agencies cannot withhold factual information under the Right-to-Know Law. The opinion is the latest in a line of cases in which the Court has closely scrutinized an agency’s claim that a public record was exempt from disclosure as a predecisional, deliberative document. The holding also signals that the Court is increasingly favoring an in camera review of any document that is purported to be a predecisional, deliberative document.
The opinion paves the way for greater access to public records. To read the opinion, please click here. To learn more about the attorneys in the Municipal Law practice at Eastburn and Gray, please click here.