Mootness Doctrine; Is TV Station’s Appeal of Grand Jury Judge’s Denial of Access to Warrant and Affidavit of Probable Cause Moot Because Documents Became Available on the Internet Through a Non-Official Source?

In Re: 2014 Allegheny County, Appeal of: WPXI, 147 A.3d 922(Pa. Super. 2017), allocatur granted, 26 WAP 2017


The Supreme Court granted allocatur to determine the issue, as phrased by WXPI:

Whether WPXI’S appeal of the decision by the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County to deny access to official copies of asserted public judicial documents was moot, because unofficial copies of the documents sought purportedly were available on the internet through a non-official source? 


After allegations of improper sexual relations between faculty and students at Allegheny County’s Plum High School became public, WPXI, a Pittsburgh-based television station, sought access to a warrant authorizing a search at the Plum High School Administration Building, and an order sealing the affidavit of probable cause that supported the search warrant.  The trial judge supervising the grand jury investigating the allegations denied WPXI’s motion WPXI appealed.  WPXI acknowledged in its brief on appeal that it had access to both documents because the executed warrant was posted on the Internet.  Superior Court determined that case was moot, as a ruling in favor of WXPI would have no practical effect.  Acknowledging that the issues raised appeared to be of public importance, Superior Court was not persuaded that they are apt to avoid review:

It does not seem likely to this Court that repeated attempts to intervene and obtain documents will be denied by a trial court, but each time another source will provide the sought-after documents before an appellate court is able to review the propriety of the trial court’s actions. Cf. In re Doe, 613 Pa. 339, 33 A.3d 615, 622 (2011) (noting that exception to mootness doctrine applies in abortion cases “because the questions … are of public importance, are capable of repetition, and may evade review due to the condensed time frame evident in every pregnancy”).

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