Sunday, August 16, 2009

Pennsylvania Office of Open Records Finds In Part Against the Philadelphia Marriage Bureau

A recent decision of the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records is of interest to genealogists interested in Philadelphia Marriage Records. The case was brought by genealogist, Dennis Gries, who brought suit through the Office of Open Records against the Philadelphia Marriage Bureau for their charging $20-$30 per record, charging for looking at a record, preventing use of a digital camera, and limiting the number of records one may request at a time. The Office of Open Records decided the case on July 31, and the plaintiff (Mr.Gries) won on some points and lost on others--per the Office of Open Records the Marriage Bureau may only charge $2.00 per page plus $2.00 for certification, the Registrar may not charge to view the record, no digital camera may be used to copy the records, the City conceded on the number of requests at one time. Currently the City of Philadelphia only provides certified copies and used that, and budgetary reasons as part of the reason for their high charges.

Mr. Gries has been in touch with me over the Open Records Law. He advised me that the City of Philadelphia will appeal their loss of the case in both in both the Court of Common Pleas and Commonwealth Courts. At this time I don't know when the courts will hear the case...and since this was a local case it only involves the Philadelphia Marriage Bureau. Because it is on appeal, the Office of Open Records decision is in "limbo" until the courts make a final decision..this may end up in an Appeals Court at a higher level depending upon what the lower courts determine.

The case is also posted on the Pennsylvania Department of Open Records under final determinations
http://openrecords.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/open_records/4434/final_determinations/481690

Jan Meisels Allen
Director, IAJGS and
Chairperson, Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

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