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City of Philadelphia Planning Commission v. Anderson

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  1. Freedom of Information

Case Number: 23 12 00944

Court: Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas

Client: Faye Anderson

Entry of Appearance Filed: Dec. 13, 2023

Background: In July 2023, journalist Faye Anderson, founder of PHL Watchdog, filed a public records request under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law seeking access to records from the City of Philadelphia Planning Commission related to the Philadelphia 76ers’ proposal to build a new sports arena in the city’s historic Chinatown. The request specifically sought “written or email communications” between members of the Planning Commission and a wide range of city officials, developers, and others during a roughly five-month period in 2023.

After the city failed to respond to the request, Anderson appealed to Pennsylvania’s Office of Open Records. In a position statement submitted to the OOR, the city claimed that Anderson’s request was too broad, repetitive, and overly burdensome. It also argued that the records would likely be exempt from disclosure under the Right-to-Know Law.

The OOR issued its final determination in November 2023, finding partially in Anderson’s favor. The OOR concluded that Anderson’s request was neither overly burdensome nor repetitive, and that the city failed to prove that the requested records were exempt from disclosure under the public records law. While the OOR concluded that portions of the request were sufficiently specific, however, it held that other portions of the request were too broad.

The OOR ordered the city to search for responsive records and turn them over to Anderson within 30 days. Instead, the city has appealed the OOR’s decision to the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas.

Paula Knudsen Burke, the Reporters Committee’s Local Legal Initiative attorney for Pennsylvania, began representing Anderson in this matter in December 2023.

Related: In June 2023, the Reporters Committee sent a letter to the Philadelphia Law Department expressing concerns about the city’s failure to respond to Right-to-Know Law requests in a timely fashion and urging it to reform its public records practices. In response the Law Department wrote that the city “shares some of the concerns expressed by RCFP and invites constructive conversation around how the law may be reformed to both provide relief to agencies that are fulfilling large quantities of requests and to reduce response time to requesters.” Representatives of the Law Department later visited the newsroom of The Philadelphia Inquirer to conduct a training on requesting city records.


2023-11-20: Office of Open Records final determination

2023-12-07: Agency notice of appeal

2023-12-13: Entry of appearance

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