Access to public information, case V Ca 2388/10

November 9th, 2010, Tomasz Rychlicki

Professor Janusz S. Bień requested the Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences to disclose public information on the license agreement, concerning the online version of the Dictionary of the Polish language of the sixteenth century. The request was filed under the Polish Act of 6 September 2001 on Access to Public Information – API – (in Polish: Ustawa o dostępie do informacji publicznej), published in Journal of Laws (Dziennik Ustaw) No. 112, item 1198, with subsequent amendments. Mr Bień did not receive the requested information, but also was not denied this information in the form of an administrative decision. As a result, prof. Bień brought an action for failure to act. The Voivodeship Administrative Court in Warsaw, in its judgment of 18 June, 2009 case file II SAB/Wa 14/09 ordered the Director of the Institute of Literary Research to examine the request.

On 13 August 2009, the Institute of Literary Research refused to provide requested public information because of the secret of the entrepreneur. The basis for refusal was Article 5(2) of the API.

Article 5. 1. The right to public information is subject to limitation to the extent and on the principles defined in the provisions on the protection of confidential information and on the protection of other secrets being statutorily protected.
2. The right to public information is subject to limitation in relation to privacy of a natural person or the secret of an entrepreneur. The limitation does not relate to the information on persons performing public functions, being connected with performing these functions, including the conditions of entrusting and performing these functions and in the event when a natural person or entrepreneur resigns from the right to which he was entitled to.

The entity, which was denied the access to the public information in respect to its exclusion of its openness when quoting the protection of personal data, the right to privacy and the secret other than state, official, treasury or statistical secret, is entitled to put an action to the court for making such information available. Professor decided to bring an action.

The Regional Court for Warszawa Śródmieście I Civil Division in its judgment of 12 March 2010 case file I C 1305/09, dismissed the action because the prof. Bien has not demonstrated that he is legally entitled to obtain a photocopy of the disputed agreement. The Court arbitrarily assumed that as a basis for disclose of a photocopy of the disputed agreement should be used Article 222 § 1 of the Civil Code governing the claim of the owner of a thing against the person who actually possess it (rei vindicatio).

Article 222. § 1. The owner may demand of a person who has actual control of a thing to release that thing to him unless that person has the right, effective with respect to the owner, to control the thing.
§ 2. The owner shall have the right to claim restitution of his lawful position and abstention from infringements of law, against a person who infringes his ownership otherwise than by depriving the owner of the actual control of a thing.

Professor Bień appealed. The District Court in Warsaw, V Civil Division, in its judgment of 9 November 2010 case file V Ca 2388/10, annulled the contested judgment and ordered Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences to provide photocopies of the agreement.