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Office of Open Records (OOR) Confirms Local Agencies can Provide Responsive Records in PDF Format

Christopher L. Voltz, Esq., cvoltz@tuckerlaw.com, (412) 594-5580

Case Overview

In Forrest v. Erie City, AP 2023-1701 (Sept. 28, 2023), Erie City responded to a request for a list of all rental properties registered and licensed in the City in an Excel spreadsheet by providing a PDF conversion of the Excel spreadsheet. On appeal, the Requester argued that the PDF provided by the City was a disjointed, unreadable and unusable 1,600-page document. The City countered that it provided a clear, 800-page PDF and that Requester’s complaints must be the result of Requester’s user error or software issues with Requester’s electronic devices.

Section 701 of the RTKL (Right-to-Know Law) provides that “[a] record being provided to a requester shall be provided in the medium requested if it exists in that medium; otherwise, it shall be provided in the medium in which it exists.” 65 P.S. § 67.701. The RTKL does not define “medium;” however, the OOR has defined it “as the substance through which something is transmitted or carried, a ‘means,’ such as on paper or on the hard-drive or on a database or over the internet.” In addition, the OOR stated that, under the RTKL, “medium” is a broad term, and “electronic medium” encompasses all electronic formats. Finally, the OOR differentiates between mediums and formats. Specifically, in Bowling v. Pa. Emgcy. Mgmt. Agency, AP 2009-0128, the requester sought Excel spreadsheets, but received a PDF document instead. The OOR denied the appeal, stating: “It was provided in an electronic medium  and there is no requirement to provide records in a manner that would subject them to alteration or manipulation.”

Conclusion

The OOR concluded in Forrest that the Requester received the responsive list in the medium requested, and that the City did not violate the RTKL by providing the information in PDF format rather than as an Excel spreadsheet or any other format sought by the Requester. This holding is consistent with other OOR determinations. See Vierling v. Pa. Dep’t of Health, AP 2018-1787 (department not required to provide responsive lists in the requested Excel spreadsheet format, and properly provided responsive records in PDF format, even though more difficult to read and disorganized); Simmons-Ritchie v. Pa. Dep’t of Cmnty. and Econ. Dev., AP 2017-0426; Curry v. West Vincent Twp., AP 2013-0507 (denying an appeal where the township provided the records in PDF format even though the requester expressly requested, and the township possessed, the records in Word format).

For more information, contact Chris Voltz at (412) 594-5580 or click here for more information about Chris.

October 17, 2023

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