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Center for Investigative Reporting (Reveal) v. Pennsylvania Department of Health

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  1. Freedom of Information

Case Number: 227 CD 2023

Court: Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

Client: Center for Investigative Reporting (Reveal)

Petition for Review Filed: March 8, 2023

Background: Reveal, a California-based nonprofit investigative news organization, filed a Right-to-Know Law request with the Pennsylvania Department of Health in August 2022 seeking information concerning cases of neonatal abstinence syndrome, a condition that occurs when babies experience withdrawal from opioids or other drugs they were exposed to in the womb. The news outlet specifically sought aggregate data for the years 2020 and 2021 showing the total number of reported NAS cases and the substances the babies were exposed to, as well as records indicating how the babies were cared for and to whom they were discharged.

The Department of Health partially granted the request, directing Reveal to a 2020 report that contained only the number of reported cases of NAS in 2020. In an appeal to the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records, Reveal challenged the Department of Health’s refusal to disclose data from 2021. However, the agency affirmed the Department of Health’s decision to withhold the 2021 records, concluding, in part, that the production of data stored in the department’s internet case management system would constitute the creation of a new record.

On behalf of Reveal, Paula Knudsen Burke, the Reporters Committee’s Local Legal Initiative attorney for Pennsylvania, filed a petition for review with the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania. The petition challenges the final determination of the OOR, noting that 17 other states have provided comparable NAS data in response to Reveal’s requests for records. Reveal asks the court to reverse the OOR’s final determination and order the Department of Health to disclose responsive data stored in its internet case management system database.

Co-Counsel: Victoria D. Baranetsky of the Center for Investigative Reporting


2023-03-08: Petition for review

2023-11-17: Principal brief of the Center for Investigative Reporting

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