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McCoy v. Public School Employees’ Retirement System

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  1. Freedom of Information

Case Number: 10 CD 2022

Court: Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

Clients: Philadelphia Inquirer, Craig McCoy, Joseph DiStefano

Petition Filed: Jan. 5, 2021

Background: In May 2021, Philadelphia Inquirer reporters Craig McCoy and Joseph DiStefano filed requests under Pennsvlvania’s Right to Know Law seeking emails, memos and other communications between staff members of the state’s Public School Employees’ Retirement System and three consulting firms. The Inquirer has reported extensively on the $70 billion pension fund’s problems over the past year, including federal investigations into investment returns and an exodus of its senior executives.

In response to the newspaper’s request for records, pension system officials produced some materials but refused to turn over many others. They specifically claimed that certain records related to criminal and noncriminal investigations were exempt from disclosure. The Inquirer then appealed to the state’s Office of Open Records, challenging PSERS’ decision to shield the records.

The OOR ultimately ordered PSERS officials to turn over certain responsive records from January 2020 up until the launch of an investigation of the fund’s investment performance in the summer of that year. However, the agency determined that while some records the newspaper requested were sufficiently specific, others were too broad. It also concluded that some records are exempt from disclosure because they are noncriminal investigative records while others are exempt because they reveal confidential proprietary information.

On behalf of the Inquirer and the two journalists, Paula Knudsen Burke, the Reporters Committee’s Local Legal Initiative attorney in Pennsylvania, appealed the OOR’s final determination to the Commonwealth Court. In a petition for review, the newspaper argues that the OOR erred by determining that many of the records could be withheld and requests that the court reverse the agency’s decision and order the release of the requested records.

Filings:

2021-12-06: OOR final determination upon reconsideration

2022-01-05: Petition for review