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Updated: Apr 22, 2022

Below are some essential tips for drafting a RTKL request. If you have questions, feel free to reach out. We can review your request and suggest edits that might save you months of time waiting to be denied.

  • Don’t ask the agency to search for legal opinions or caselaw

The agency can deny your request if you ask them to perform legal research for you.[1]

  • Don’t ask the agency for “complaints”

For some reason, this one comes up a lot. When a complaint is filed with an agency and the agency initiates an investigation, the records relating to that complaint and the complaint itself are exempt from access. [2] Instead, think about the information on the complaint and what other types of records might contain that same information.

  • Don’t include the phrases “any and all” or “including but not limited to”

The agency can deny your request if it’s not specific enough, and sometimes these broad phrases are enough to make an otherwise specific request too broad and vague.[3]

  • Don’t ask for more than three months’ worth of records in a single request

If your timeframe is too long, that can be a factor in favor of denying your request as “insufficiently specific.”[4]

  • Don’t pose questions to the agency

The law only allows you to ask for records.[5] The law doesn’t require an agency to respond to questions, so this can be another ground for denial.

  • Include a subject matter

The subject matter needs to explain some context for the records that you want, so that the agency understands what to look for.[6]

  • Identify a specific type of record (e.g., say “emails,” not “documents”)

Another specificity issue. If you know what type of record you’re seeking, definitely include it, as it can lower your chances of being denied.[7]

  • State whether you want electronic records or hard copies (hard copies can cost you in duplication fees)

Electronic records are great because they can lower your duplication fees.[8] But whatever you want, make sure you tell the agency in your request.

  • Offer to work with the agency on an extended time frame, but do it IN WRITING and BEFORE the expiration of the extension

The agency can invoke a thirty-day extension to look for your records.[9] Feel free to grant them some extra time, but you need to do that in writing to avoid losing your ability to appeal.[10]

This blog is not intended to be legal advice, as the analysis might change depending upon your specific situation. For additional assistance, reach out to Joy Ramsingh, at Joy Ramsingh is an open records, open meetings, appellate advocacy lawyer and the founder of her virtual law office, Ramsingh Legal.

[1] See, e.g., Monighan v. Pa. Department of Transportation, OOR Dkt. AP 2013-1967, 2013 PA O.O.R.D. LEXIS 1118; Aliota v. Millcreek Township, OOR Dkt. AP 2012-1351, 2012 PA O.O.R.D. LEXIS 1170. The Commonwealth Court has found that "[a] request that explicitly or implicitly obliges legal research is not a request for a specific document; rather, it is a request for someone to conduct legal research with the hopes that the legal research will unearth a specific document that fits the description of the request." Askew v. Pa. Office of the Governor, 65 A.3d 989, 993 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2013). [2] 65 P.S. § 67.708(b)(17). [3] Marsh v. City of Philadelphia, OOR Dkt. AP 2019-0752, 2019 PA O.O.R.D. LEXIS 635. [4] See e.g., Aliota v. Erie County, OOR Dkt. AP 2014-0975, 2014 PA O.O.R.D. LEXIS 775. [5] See Gingrich v. Pa. Game Comm'n, No. 1254 C.D. 2011, 2012 Pa. Commw. Unpub. LEXIS 38 at *14 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Jan. 12, 2012) (the portion of a request "set forth as a question" did not "trigger a response"). [6] Pa. Dep't of Educ. v. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 119 A.3d 1126 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2015). [7] Id. at 1125. [8] 65 P.S. § 67.1307(b)(2). [9] 65 P.S. § 67.902. [10] Section 902(b)(2) states that "[i]f the date that a response is expected to be provided is in excess of 30 days, following the five business days allowed for in section 901, the request for access shall be deemed denied unless the requester has agreed in writing to an extension to the date specified in the notice."

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