CCP Lackawanna and the Tax Collector

A reader asked me in the context of my prior article dealing with CCP Lackawanna v. OOR (see item from August 17) how that case might apply to the tax records in the hands of the Tax Collector.  It doesn't.  In fact, the CCP Lackawanna case is the exact opposite of that.

For the benefit of those unaware of this, the OOR has taken the position that where a Tax Collector performs his statutory duty on behalf of an agency, it remains the agency's duty to get his records and turn them over upon request.  This despite the statute making the Tax Collector exempt from the RTKL.  The OOR's position was successfully challenged in the Montgomery County CCP with the case on appeal to the Commonwealth Court.  (I wrote about this situation in an alert to the firm's clients back in January 2010 before Mr. Honaman took his appeal on behalf of Signature Solutions. CW Ct. argument is now scheduled for September 2010, so stay tuned).

Thus, where the CCP Lackawanna case involved judicial records (private non-RTKL records) in the hands of an agency with a duties under the RTKL, the Tax Collector situation involves a request for arguably public records sent to an agency that does not have the records to turn over. 

So I would not recommend relying upon the CCP Lackawanna case for issues dealing with the Tax Collector's records. For that issue, we will have to await the ruling of the courts.  That being said, were I deciding the case, I would side with Judge Moore (of Montgomery County CCP) and point out that the records the Tax Collector is required to turn over to a taxing agency is limited both in extent and timing and only make an agency turn over what it has actually received.

When access and control will not render a record public

The Commonwealth Court recently issued a decision in the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County v. the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records and Lackawanna County, No. 35 M.D. 2010 (Pa. Cmwlth.). Essentially, this case indicated that where an agency has access to a record as a result of its support of a second agency, that record will maintain its status and exclusions as though it was only held by the second agency.

The court found that the requested records were judicial records (normally exempt from the RTKL) but they were housed on the County's computer server, giving the County access to and control over the records.  The OOR had decided that meant that a requester could gain access by directing a request to the County.  The Commonwealth Court disagreed.

Essentially, the court decided that the County was providing a support function to the judicial agency and that the County’s ability to access records as a result of that support did not convert the judicial agencies documents into County documents.

Just because the County provides logistic support to the courts does not mean that every record stored on what the County provides as part of its function to support the court makes it a county record – those records always remain the records of the court.

The court went on to point out that a different finding would lead to an absurd result where one could obtain non-public documents of the court simply by directing the request to the county.

This reasoning applies equally well to §708(b) exceptions. Thus, the §708(b) exceptions that would apply to a supported agency will continue to be effective on the records in the hands of the supporting one. An example of interest to some agencies might be where they contract with another agency to analyze or gather data and issue reports used for negotiations.