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Spotlight PA v. Board of Trustees of The Pennsylvania State University

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  1. Local Legal Initiative

Case Number: 2023-cv-2998-cl

Court: Court of Common Pleas, Centre County, Pennsylvania

Client: Spotlight PA

Complaint Filed: Dec. 6, 2023

Background: In October 2023, Spotlight PA sent a letter to Penn State University’s Board of Trustees raising concerns that it had taken official action and conducted deliberations outside of public meetings in violation of Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act.

“PSU’s lack of transparency harms the public it is designed to serve and educate,” Paula Knudsen Burke, the Reporters Committee’s Local Legal Initiative attorney for Pennsylvania, argued in the letter on behalf of the nonprofit news outlet.

The letter reminded school officials of Penn State’s obligations under the Sunshine Act and urged them to address Spotlight PA’s concerns before the next Board of Trustees meetings in early November.

In response, however, the university’s general counsel said she was “confident that the Board has taken its official actions and conducted its deliberations in compliance with the [Sunshine] Act.” The Board of Trustees proceeded to hold certain meetings on Nov. 9 and 10 behind closed doors, telling a Spotlight PA reporter that they were closed to the public.

On behalf of Spotlight PA, Burke sued Penn State’s Board of Trustees for violating the Sunshine Act. The lawsuit argues that the Board of Trustees improperly used two exceptions under the Sunshine Act to shield its deliberations and official actions from the public.

Quote: “By regularly meeting in secret, Penn State officials are not just violating the state’s Sunshine Act, they are also violating the public’s trust,” Burke told Spotlight PA. “In order to hold an institution as large and influential as Penn State accountable, we must demand greater transparency.”

Filings:

2023-12-06: Complaint

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