On remand from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court recently reversed itself and sided with Buchanan’s Litigation team of Jan Budman and Kyle Meyer when it held in late November 2017, that the right to informational privacy in one’s home address found in the state’s constitution bars release of social services recipients’ addresses in response to a request for that personal information pursuant to Pennsylvania’s public records law, otherwise known as the Right-to-Know Law (RTKL).
The case stems from a October 2014 RTKL request to the Chester Housing Authority (the Authority) to disclose a list of addresses where the tenant occupying the housing unit was the recipient of funding available from the Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP). Formerly known as Section 8 Housing Assistance, the HCVP is a federally funded housing program that is regulated by the U.S. Dep’t of Housing and Urban Development. The Authority denied this request, after which the Requestor appealed to Pennsylvania’s Office of Open Records (OOR) which sided with the Requestor and issued a determination granting the appeal and ordering the Authority to disclose the HCVP recipients’ home addresses.
In November 2014, Buchanan’s team appealed the OOR’s determination to the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas which held a full evidentiary hearing in April 2015 along with post-trial briefing. In October 2015, Judge Fizzano Cannon affirmed the OOR’s determination. The Authority then appealed to the Commonwealth Court with The Philadelphia Housing Authority joining in the Authority’s appeal. In August 2016, after briefing and oral argument, the Commonwealth Court affirmed the lower court’s holding. Not giving up, the Authority trusted Buchanan to petition the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for allocatur seeking, among other grounds, a decision on whether the HCVP recipients’ home addresses were protected by the right to privacy.
About a month after Budman and Meyer filed the petition for allocatur, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued an opinion in another case that settled the dispute among Pennsylvania jurisdictions regarding the constitutional protections afforded to personal information, including home addresses, and the circumstances under which such personal information can be disclosed in the context of an RTKL request. In that case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court first concluded that home addresses are constitutionally protected, then they set forth a balancing test meant to gauge whether the public interest in favor of disclosure of the home addresses is strong enough to outweigh the constitutional right to informational privacy.
In light of that intervening decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted the Authority’s allocatur request and remanded the matter back to the Commonwealth Court. After additional briefing, Budman argued before a panel of Commonwealth Court judges in Philadelphia in October 2017 and convinced the panel that the Requestor’s asserted pubic interest did not outweigh the HCVP recipients’ right to informational privacy.