The Volokh Conspiracy

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'Volunteer archers'


Not a phrase that you'd expect to often encounter in the 21st century—but here it is, from this month's Pennsylvania decision in Municipality of Mt. Lebanon v. Gillen:

In July 2015, the Municipality awarded a contract to White Buffalo, Inc. to conduct an organized bow hunt on public and private properties within the Municipality in order to curb the community's deer population. Property owners within the Municipality could permit the hunt to occur on their properties and could offer their services as archers in the hunt.

Elaine Gillen then filed a public-records request for the names of these archers, but Pennsylvania public-records law generally exempts "records that would disclose the identity of an individual who lawfully makes a donation to an agency." (Recall that there's no First Amendment right to the release of public records, except for records in court cases, so public records release requirements, and exemptions from those requirements, are up to each state to define.) And the court held that this exemption covered the names of the volunteers:

While the donation of the property here is temporary … and the volunteer archers are donating time and services rather than property, … [the exemption is not limited] to large donations or permanent gifts of money or property. …

Moreover, interpretation of the [right-to-know law] must also take into account the [implicit] constitutional protection of individuals' rights of privacy under Article 1, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. … Because the donor exception involves acts of private individuals, rather than government actors, and affects the privacy of private individuals, the rule of narrow construction of exemptions from disclosure under the [right-to-know law] does not provide a basis for interpreting "donation" as used in Section 708(b)(13) more narrowly than its common and ordinary meaning.