In re 2014 Allegheny County Grand Jury: Mootness ruling must be based on facts
In an unusually brief, unanimous opinion, Chief Justice Saylor ruled that the Superior Court erred in finding a dispute between two parties moot where the facts of record did not clearly demonstrate mootness.
WPXI, a television station, sought access to certain sealed grand jury documents about a sex scandal at a local school on the basis of Pennsylvania’s common law right of public access to judicial documents. The Commonwealth fought the disclosure of the documents based on the need for privacy in grand jury proceedings. The trial court ruled the documents could not be disclosed, and the Superior Court dismissed the matter completely on WPXI’s admission that the documents had been leaked by another juror and were available on the internet. Both parties agreed the dispute was live, but the Superior Court did not.
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania reversed. A court should not make a mootness determination unless the facts make clear that the controversy is in fact of no effect. In this case, a news agency has a stronger interest in obtaining documents “from the source” than other litigants might, and it is not clear that its concerns are satisfied by the disclosure of the documents from a third party.