Commonwealth Court Decision on Right-to-Know Request

On August 4, 2011, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania issued a decision on an appeal from the Office of Open Records (OOR) decision on a Right-to-Know Law (RTKL) request for W-2 forms in the case of Office of the Budget v. Simon Campbell.

OOR had previously required the Office of the Budget (OB) to release the W-2 forms of all current and former employees of the OB, redacting only certain information.  In prior cases decided by OOR, it had determined that W-2 forms are public records subject to release.  The OB argued that federal law makes tax returns and tax return information, including W-2 forms, confidential and prohibits their disclosure.  The Commonwealth Court agreed and upheld the confidentiality of W-2 forms. 

The Commonwealth Court determined that under the Internal Revenue Code, W-2 forms fall within the definitions of “return” and “return information,” and as such, they are confidential and cannot be disclosed.  Because W-2 forms are exempt from disclosure under federal law, the Commonwealth Court reasoned that they are not public records under the RTKL.  As to whether the OOR could permit the release of redacted W-2 forms, the Commonwealth Court recognized the United States Supreme Court’s ruling that the returns themselves are protected from disclosure and therefore cannot be released even with redactions. 

This decision by the Commonwealth Court now makes the non-disclosure of W-2 forms uniform throughout the Commonwealth.  In light of this decision, if the District receives a request for W-2 forms, you may now deny that request. 

We will continue to monitor key Commonwealth Court decisions that impact that District.  Please continue to contact our office if you have any questions on the application of exceptions to Right-to-Know requests which you receive.

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