The Application of Open Records Laws to Publicly Funded Science” by Lauren Kurtz, Natural Resources & Environment, American Bar Association Section of Environmental, Energy, and Resources, Spring 2017

The referenced article discusses the potential exemption from public disclosure of scientific research. Included is discussion of the well-known Washington Supreme Court decision in Progressive Animal Welfare Society v. University of Washington, 125 Wn.2d 243 (1994) (addressing internal, peer-review correspondence). See also, Servais v. Port of Bellingham, 127 Wn.2d 820 (1995) (explaining application of “research data” exemption in Washington’s Public Records Act).

Deciding a dispute between a newspaper and a police department based on an open records request, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin has ruled that a municipality cannot impose a fee on a requester of a public record for “the actual, necessary, and direct costs incurred by the authority (including staff time) of deleting nondisclosable information included within the responsive records.” The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper had requested certain records as part of an investigation into crime data classification. The Milwaukee Police Department agreed, but asked the paper to pay, in advance, the anticipated amount of approximately $4,000 to cover staff time to review and redact the hundreds of incident reports to remove Social Security numbers, financial account numbers, and crime victim and suspect identifying information. The newspaper sued, seeking judgment compelling the City to release the records without prepayment of any fees assessed for redacting information. (The newspaper agreed, for purposes of the summary judgment, that the City’s estimates of the time required to review and redact the requested records were made in good faith and were not intended to generate a profit.)

Continue Reading City Can’t Impose Fee for Redacting Data [From the International Association of Municipal Attorneys]

A Pennsylvania appeals court recently overturned a trial court ruling that allowed the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) to withhold the complete list of the recipients of goods and services PEMA purchased with Homeland Security funds in response to a disclosure request from a Pittsburgh newspaper reporter. Bowling v. Office of Open Records, 2010 Westlaw 395637, February 5, 2010. The Court found that while disclosing the location of certain items, such as computer servers and biochemical testing equipment could be harmful to security, identifying the number and location of such items as bungee cords would not. The Court explicitly acknowledged the “enormity of the task” that individually identifying the non-sensitive items would create for PEMA, but nevertheless held that Pennsylvania’s new disclosure law required greater access to the Commonwealth’s public records.