Are communications between an agency and a contractor “internal to the agency” under the internal, predecisional deliberations exception of the Right to Know Law? The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania recently said yes, and protected some documents from public disclosure under Section 708(b)(10)(i) of the Right to Know Law. In Finnerty v. Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, No. 801 C.D. 2018, 2019 WL 1797668 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Apr. 25, 2019), the Court held that the existence of a contractual relationship between a governmental department and a contractor can make some documentation protected and internal to the agency.
The Finnerty Court stated that a request for “internal staff and contractor recommendations, comments to documents, draft proposals, and discussions that played a role in [a governmental]… decision making process” was properly denied.
The Commonwealth Court found that the internal, predecisional deliberations exception of the Right to Know Law serves to promote the “frank exchange of ideas and opinions” that will occur between the agency and financial and legal experts who are contracted.
It is important to remember that a contractual relationship alone does not automatically protect all communications between a governmental agency or department and its contractors. If you have questions on how to properly respond to a Right to Know Request, please contact your solicitor or please contact me at email@example.com.