Wednesday afternoon, Judge Richard P. Haaz for the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, denied the borough of Pottstown’s motion for a protective order in a lawsuit over its rental inspection law that forces landlords and tenants to open their properties and homes to intrusive inspections. Pottstown renters, a landlord, and residents of a non-rental home the borough attempted to search partnered with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to challenge the inspections in 2017. They challenged the inspections for violating Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution’s right to privacy in the home. Wednesday’s order ensures that Pottstown residents will have a full record of how these inspections are actually conducted—and what inspectors actually do once they are inside peoples’ homes.
On June 23, 2020, the court ordered Pottstown to produce “all requested documents.” Pottstown chose to defy this order and instead filed for a protective order in the Court of Common Pleas, asking for the quantity of documents it had to produce to be severely limited and for the right to withhold all electronically stored information.
And that’s not all—Pottstown claimed, for the first time in the three years of this litigation, that producing these documents was so burdensome that the plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of the rental ordinance should pay for what the court had ordered. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, in reaction to Pottstown’s obstinate unwillingness to satisfy its discovery obligations, asked the court to allow the plaintiffs to appoint a computer forensics expert trained in data recovery to retrieve the borough’s files. Judge Haaz granted this request in Wednesday’s order.
“Pottstown’s attempts to keep its unconstitutional inspections hidden from public view were always meritless, and we’re pleased to see the court recognize it as such,” IJ Attorney Robert Peccola said. “With these records, we will be one step closer to vindicating Pottstown residents’ constitutional rights.”