By Jonathan Maddison and Andrew Appleby
The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania held that tax records detailing yearly totals of room rental tax and other occupancy data submitted by hotel taxpayers to a locality were not subject to disclosure under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law (RTKL). A newspaper, under the RTKL, requested that Lancaster County provide detailed tax records for all hotels in the county that paid the Hotel Room Rental and Excise Taxes. The County’s denial of the newspaper’s public records request was ultimately upheld by the Commonwealth Court. The RTKL starts with the presumption that a record in the possession of a local agency is a public record, and then several exceptions are provided, including records that constitute or reveal a trade secret or confidential proprietary information. The Commonwealth Court reasoned that the information sought by the newspaper was confidential proprietary information under the RTKL because the information necessary for the hotels to compute the Hotel Room Rental and Excise Taxes, including occupancy data and related information, is never shared between hotels or with the public. Further, the court held that the disclosure of such information would cause substantial harm to the competitive position of the hotels. Accordingly, the Commonwealth Court held that the County was not required to release any of the information sought by the newspaper. Thirty Inc. v. Smart, No. 805 C.D. 2013 (Apr. 14, 2014).