Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Important OPRA decision

On May 10, 2010, the Superior Court, Appellate Division issued a published opinion in the case of David Burnett v. County of Gloucester. The opinion is available on-line here. Since it's a published opinion, it is binding precedent.

The requestor has asked the County for "any and all settlement agreements, releases or similar documents entered into, approved or accepted from 01/01/2006 to [March 14, 2008]"

The Appellate Division made two holdings:

1. The fact that the requestor asked for settlement agreements and releases falling within a certain date range instead of specifying the lawsuits to which the settlements pertained did not impermissibly require the custodian to conduct "research." The Court held that "it is the documents, themselves, that have been requested, and their retrieval requires a search, not research." This clarifies and limits the Appellate Division's 2005 ruling in MAG Entertainment, LLC v. Div. of Alcoholic Beverage Control, 375 N.J. Super. 534.

2. The fact that some of the settlement agreement that were responsive to the request were held by other parties, such as insurance carriers and outside lawyers, did not relieve the County of its obligation of retrieve them for the requestor. This clarifies and limits the Appellate Division's 2005 ruling in Bent v. Township of Stafford Police Department, 381 N.J. Super. 30.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

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