Pennsylvania Supreme Court Expands Right-to-Know Requesters’ Ability to Seek Attorneys’ Fees for Bad Faith DenialsOn January 3, 2021 by Schnader in Communications and Media
Jonathan B. Skowron, Chair of Schnader’s Communications and Media Industry Group, published a client alert, “Pennsylvania Supreme Court Expands Right-to-Know Requesters’ Ability to Seek Attorneys’ Fees for Bad Faith Denials.”
On December 23, 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court clarified an ambiguity in the state’s Right-to-Know Law, expanding the situations in which a requester can seek attorneys’ fees from an agency that denies a request in bad faith or based upon an unreasonable interpretation of the law. See Uniontown Newspapers, Inc. v. Pa. Dep’t of Corr., Nos. 76 MAP 2019, 77 MAP 2019, 2020 Pa. LEXIS 6488 (Dec. 22, 2020).
Until now, it was unclear whether obtaining a reversal of an appeals officer’s review of an agency’s decision was a prerequisite to a fee award. In its recent opinion, the Court held that such a reversal is not a prerequisite, and that prevailing requesters can obtain attorneys’ fees on appeal for bad faith regardless of an appeals officer’s determination. This ruling will allow requesters facing bad faith denials to consider more aggressively pursuing their requests on appeal even in situations where a court upholds an appeals officer’s decision.