Thursday, April 9, 2009

Appellate Division requires specificity in OPRA requests

In a published decision released today, the Appellate Division agreed with the Government Records Council that John Bart's request for records was not specific enough.

Bart had requested the Passaic County Public Housing Agency to provide him with the agency's signs "currently posted in conformance with N.J.S.A. 47:1A-5(j)." In other words, Bart wanted the signs that OPRA requires every agency post to inform citizens that they have a right to appeal from an OPRA denial.

The Appellate Division ruled that because he referred to a statutory citation, Bart's request "required the Agency's custodian of records to undertake some legal research and analysis in order to identify the signs to which Bart was referring." Since custodians are not required to "engage in legal research or consult an attorney in order to identify the records being requested," the court reasoned, Bart's request was not specific enough.

The decision is available here.

This case is disturbing because it apparently allows unscrupulous custodians to deny records by feigning ignorance of laws that they ought to be familiar with.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

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