OPRA litigation update

Some requests filed by users of OPRAmachine have resulted in litigation against public agencies for their denial of requests. All of these lawsuits have been filed after requests were originally sent out through our platform. Here are some notable cases of interest:

Rozzi v. Office of the Attorney General

We have encountered heavy resistance from the state attorney general’s office, as the office has refused to provide emailed responses to OPRA requests submitted by our system. We first attempted to get the OAG to adopt more transparent record request procedures by way of an petition for rulemaking that we filed with them back in November. Since receiving the petition, the OAG has reinforced their position of refusing to accept emailed OPRA requests and denied our petition even though the state’s online system simply forwards requests from an online contact form to an email address, the same technology that the attorney general claims to not be able to support.

This case arose out of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office’s refusal to provide copies of email logs for the email address utilized by the OAG’s custodian of records, DAG Bruce Solomon. We sought copies of the email logs in order to assess how the attorney general’s Office is responding to OPRA requests, as well as assesing the validity of their outright denial of our requests. We felt that paying attention to the OPRA practices of the AG’s office would be beneficial, especially given the delays and other deficiencies that were notable in the New Jersey State Police’s handling of OPRA requests, as documented in the case Libertarians for Transparent Government v. New Jersey State Police. A verified complaint was filed in Mercer County Superior Court, and a future hearing is pending.

Read the full complaint here

Duff v. City of Camden

Patrick Duff’s lawsuit against the City of Camden was the latest OPRA lawsuit to arise out of a request originally sent via OPRAmachine. Duff’s lawsuit involves his request for meeting minutes from the city.

“In April of 2017 the city of Camden held a publicly advertised meeting where they discussed applications that totaled 3.8 million dollars in grant money. They than had another meeting in May where they approved the applications or denied them,” Duff explained in a post in our NJ OPRA Facebook group “I filed an OPRA request to see if they had minutes to either meeting, and they do not. So this suit was filed in Camden Superior Court and we are about to see what they say on the record.”

According to Duff’s profile on OPRAmachine, he describes himself as a “… community organizer who is working to preserve the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Southern NJ area. Many of Duff’s OPRA requests were sent to state and local governmental agencies about various historic preservation efforts that are related to Dr. King and his legacy.

Read the full complaint here

Coombs v. Borough of Westfield

Monmouth County independent journalist Jennifer Coombs of ASK NJ Media filed this lawsuit against the Bergen County borough of Westfield over their response to an OPRA request seeking employee payroll records. At issue in this case is the Borough’s whiteout redactions made to the names of several minor employees in the payroll record disclosed to Coombs in response to her December, 2017 OPRA request. Coombs argues that the names of the minors should be disclosed on the employee payroll record and that the borough’s redaction was improper under OPRA.

Read the full complaint here

Other cases of interest:

These cases did not originate from requests originally filed via OPRAmachine, but they also may be of interest.

McHale v. Township of Lacey and Rozzi v. Township of Lacey In 2017, Lacey Township paid legal fees to OPRA plaintiff Michael Mchale of New Jersey Corruption Watch after he sought records pertaining to Lacey Township’s settlement of a lawsuit with gun store owner Bill Malcolm. The lawsuit challenged Lacey Township Clerk / Administrator Veronica Laureigh’s reliance on the New Jersey Rules of Evidence, specifically a rule regarding settlement negotiations, as basis to redact correspondence between the attorney representing the township and the attorney representing Malcolm when he sued Lacey land use officials over the denial of a variance necessary to sell firearms at Malcolm’s Route 9 store.

Libenschek v. Township of Stafford In this case, Stafford Township officials claimed producing the emails logs sought by OPRA requestor Eric Libenscheck would bring their email server grinding to a halt. Case documents are online here via OPRAmachine

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