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Pennsylvania Department of Health v. Mahon (84 CD 2023)

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  1. Freedom of Information

Case Number: 84 CD 2023

Court: Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

Clients: Spotlight PA, Ed Mahon

Entry of Appearance Filed: Feb. 21, 2023

Background: In October 2022, Spotlight PA reporter Ed Mahon submitted a request to the Pennsylvania Department of Health under the state’s Right-to-Know Law seeking records related to medical marijuana certifications issued by Theodore Colterelli. According to Spotlight PA, the Department of Health has accused the doctor of violating state regulations by approving a patient’s certification for medical marijuana without reviewing the patient’s medical records.

The Department of Health denied Mahon’s request, prompting the reporter to file an appeal with the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records. In its final determination, the OOR concluded that the Department of Health must turn over data concerning the aggregate number of certifications Colterelli issued during specific time periods. However, the agency said the Department of Health could withhold records showing de-identified patient information related to individual certifications.

The Department of Health appealed the OOR’s final determination to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania. Paula Knudsen Burke, the Reporters Committee’s Local Legal Initiative attorney for Pennsylvania, began representing Mahon and Spotlight PA in this matter in February 2023.

Related: Burke is also representing Mahon and Spotlight PA in a similar public records case against the Department of Health concerning medical marijuana certifications. And previously, Burke helped Mahon and Spotlight PA win a public records dispute with the Department of Health over data related to the state’s medical marijuana program. In that case, the Commonwealth Court ultimately ordered the health officials to disclose data that shows how many patients are certified to receive medical marijuana as a treatment for anxiety, cancer, opioid addiction, and other qualifying conditions under the state’s medical marijuana program. Using those records, Mahon published a data-driven investigation that helps Pennsylvanians better understand how patients are using the state’s relatively new medical marijuana program. Learn more about the investigation and the legal effort behind it in this RCFP interview with Mahon.


2023-01-03: Final determination of the Office of Open Records

2023-02-02: Department of Health petition for review

2023-02-21: Entry of appearance

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