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Open Records Act of 2008 Protocol

Agency Open Records Officer

The Open Records Officer for the Centre County Coroner's Office is Scott A. Sayers, Centre County Coroner.

Contact information for the Coroner's office

420 Holmes St.
Bellefonte, Pennsylvania 16823
(814) 355-6898 (Phone)
(814) 355-8640 (Fax)
(e-mail)

Contact information for the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records

Terry Mutchler, Executive Director
Pennsylvania Office of Open Records
Commonwealth Keystone Building
4th Floor
400 North Street
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17120-0225
http://openrecords.state.pa.us (website)
(e-mail)
(717) 346-9903 (Phone)
(717) 425-5343 (Fax)

Contact information for appeals relating to investigatory reports

Centre County District Attorney
Stacy Parks Miller
Centre County Courthouse Rm 404
Bellefonte, PA 16823
(814) 355-6735 (Phone)
(814) 355-6756 (Fax)


Who May Request a Record

A requester must be a legal resident of the United States or may be another agency.

The open records officer may fulfill verbal, written or anonymous verbal or written requests for access to records. However only requesters who make written requests may pursue remedies for denial of access provided under the Act.

A written request may be submitted in person, by mail, by e-mail or by facsimile.

A written request must be addressed to the open records officer.

A written request shall be in sufficient detail to allow the open records officer to determine which records are being sought and shall include the name and address to which a response shall be sent.

A written request does not need to include any explanation of the reason for the request or the intended use of the information unless otherwise required by law.

A requester may have access to a public record unless the intended use of the record unless it is otherwise prohibited bylaw.


What Records May or May Not Be Accessed from the Office of the Coroner

Financial records may be accessed. These are defined as: any account, voucher or contract dealing with the receipt or disbursement of funds; the acquisition, use or disposal of services, supplies, materials, equipment or property; or the salary or other payments or expenses paid to an officer or employee of the agency, including the name and title of the officer or employee. If the financial record is in the possession of the county, the coroner's open records officer shall request the record from the county for response to the requestor and if the county makes the copies of the records the duplication fees therefore shall be remitted to the county.

The following records may not be accessed:

  • specifically exempt under section 708 of the Act,
  • protected by privilege, or
  • exempt from disclosure under any other Federal or State law or regulation or judicial order or decree.
These exceptions to public records of the coroner include:
  • Decision making process of an agency
  • Investigation exception
  • DNA and RNA samples
  • Autopsy records, audiotapes, copies of such reports, photos or videotapes of deceased or autopsy
  • Personal privacy, for example,
    • Copying of death certificates is not permitted. 35 P.S. § 450.90 1 and 450.902 cannot be accessed by the general public Confidential HIV-related information may not be released without a court order. 35 P.S. § 7607-7608.
    • Mental health records may not be released without consent or their contents disclosed to anyone. 50 P.S. § 7111(a). Zone v. Friends Hospital 836 A.2d 25, 31-32 (PA. 2003).
    • The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act specifically prohibits the disclosure of individually identifiable health information. HIPPA Regulations at §160.203, 160.204. Federal law prohibits the disclosure of social security numbers. Information regarding drug and alcohol abuse is restricted by 42 USC § 290dd-2.
    • Federal law prohibits the release of certain information concerning victims of abuse. Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (108 Stat. 1902 etseq.)
    • Veterans record information, including name and address are proscribed from general public release by 38 USC § 5701, 7332. Theft of Privacy Concerns.
    • Information as to cause and manner of death, including details as to the type of injury, place and location of injury, time of injury and a detailed description of how the injury occurred, which could have an impact or bearing on an ongoing criminal investigation is not a public record. The Johnstown Tribune Publishing Co. v. Ross, 871 A2d 324 (Pa Cmwlth 2005.)
    • In addition, records that are not produced by or requested to be produced by the coroner are not subject to release by the coroner, e.g. medical records, accident reports, police investigatory reports, photos provided by other agencies. Autopsies and autopsy reports are subject to release to persons authorized under 16 P.S. 1236.1.???

Creation of a Record

A record shall be provided to a requester in the medium requested, if that currently exists. When responding to a request, the open records officer shall not be required to create a record which does not currently exist or to compile, maintain, format or organize a record in a manner in which the coroner does not currently keep the record.

No access is permitted to the computer of the coroner or an employee of the coroner


Redaction

If the requested record contains both public and non-public information access to the public information shall be granted and access to the non-public information shall be denied. The non-public information shall either be separated or redacted from the public information.

The information that is available to the general public is limited to the Name, Date of Death, Cause of Death and Manner of Death of those persons who died in previous years. Information on deaths occurring in the current year will oniy become available within 30 days after the end of the this year. 16 P.S. Sec 1251


Acting Upon a Request

Upon receiving a request the open records officer shall:
  • note the date of receipt on the request,
  • note when the five business days for response is due on the request, and
  • maintain a copy of the request and any supporting documentation until any appeals are final.

All applicable fees must be paid by the requester prior to the duplication and receipt of the requested records.

Failure of the open records officer to respond within the 5 days shall be deemed a denial of the request.

The open records officer may notify the requester that a response will take more than 5 days if any of the following apply:

  • request requires redaction,
  • request requires retrieval of information from a remote location, bona fide and specified staffing limitations,
  • legal reviews,
  • requester has not complied with the access requirements,
  • requester refused to pay applicable fees,
  • extent or nature of request requires additional time.

If the response will take more than an additional 30 days the requester must agree to the extension of time. If there is no agreement the request shall be deemed denied. If the open records officer has not responded within the time extension the request shall be deemed denied the following day.

Additionally the open records officer may respond to a request by notifying the requester that the record is available through electronic means. If the requester is unable or unwilling to access the record electronically, the requester may within 30 days of such notification submit a written request to have the record converted to paper. The open records officer has five days to provide the record in paper format.

A request may be denied in part and granted in part.

Denials shall be issued in writing and shall include:

  • a description of the record requested,
  • specific reasons for denial, including citation of supporting legal authority,
  • the typed or printed name, title, business address, business telephone number and signature of open records officer denying the request,
  • date of response, and procedure to appeal.

Appeals to denials may be filed within 15 days to the Commonwealth's Open Records Office or court. Appeals on criminal investigatory documents will be handled by the county district attorney's appeals officer.


Fees

Postage fees may not exceed actual cost of mailing.

Fees for duplication shall be established by the statewide Office of Open Records.

The open records officer may impose reasonable fees for official certification of copies if the requester requests such and it is for the purpose of legally verifying the record.

When a record is not maintained on paper duplication fees shall be limited to the lesser fee of duplication in paper or in the original medium unless the requester specifically asks for the record to be made available in the more expensive medium.

A fee of $50 (fifty dollars) must be paid prior to mailing of approved requested information.