Legal Hotline: Right To Know Law Inspection Fees

Legal Hotline: Right To Know Law Inspection Fees

PNA Legal Hotline

Q:  I filed a Right-to-Know request seeking to inspect records.  I want to review the records before requesting copies to help me decide which records are most relevant and to reduce copy fees.  The agency granted my request, but the agency is charging a redaction fee and an hourly fee for an employee to watch over me while I review the records.  Can they do that?

A: Staff time fees are not generally permissible under the RTKL. Redaction fees are also not permitted, but if the agency must make paper copies in order to redact non-public information prior to inspection, the agency can impose a copy fee.

The Office of Open Records (OOR) is statutorily charged with setting the fees for local and commonwealth agencies under the RTKL. The OOR clearly states in the fee limitation section of the fee schedule that “[A]n agency may not charge staff time or salary for complying with a RTK request.” This aspect of the schedule is consistent with appellate court case law holding staff time fees are generally not permissible under the law. See State Emples. Ret. Sys. v. Office of Open Records, 10 A.3d 358 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2010).

Likewise, the RTKL does not permit agencies to charge a fee for inspecting public records. Similarly, the RTKL also does not permit agencies to impose fees for redaction unless the agency must print records in order to redact them. If redaction requires printed copies, the agency may charge copy fees as permitted under the law. The Office of Open Records has set the fee for black & white paper copies at .25 per page.

The agency cannot impose an hourly staff time fee related to inspecting records. If the records in this case require redaction that can only be accomplished by printing a paper copy, the agency can impose a $.25 per page fee for black and white copies.  If, after inspecting the records, the requester chooses to obtain the printed copies, no additional fee may be charged. It is important to note that only those pages that must be printed to be redacted can result in fees.  Any records that do not require printing cannot be included in the redaction fee calculation.

Finally, requesters should also note that the imposition of fees and all redactions can be appealed to the appropriate RTKL appeal office, which is most commonly the Office of Open Records.

As always, this is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice.  Please contact the PNA Legal Hotline at (717) 703-3080 for more specific guidance or with questions.