Thursday, June 13, 2013

State Firemen's Association subject to OPRA

In a decision handed down today, June 13, 2013, a three-judge panel of the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, ruled that the New Jersey State Firemen's Association (NJSFA) "is a public agency under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA)."

I am the plaintiff in the case.  I have served since 1992 as a volunteer firefighter and am a life member of the NJSFA.  I submitted an OPRA request to the NJSFA in September 2011 which was denied because the NJSFA asserted that it was not subject to OPRA.  With Richard Gutman of Montclair as my attorney, I filed suit challenging the denial and my suit was dismissed on February 17, 2012 by Union County Superior Court Judge Regina Caufield.  I appealed and the Appellate Division, in a published decision, reversed the dismissal and remanded for further proceedings.  Caufield's decision is on-line here and the Appellate Division's is on-line here.

The Appellate Division found that the NJSFA is an "independent State . . . instrumentality" within OPRA's definition of "public agency."  N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1.1.  Taking guidance from three previous Supreme Court decisions, the Appellate Division found that the NJSFA's "formation, structure, and function render it public agency under OPRA."  The court found that the NJSFA, which received nearly $25 million in taxes on fire insurance premiums received by non-domestic insurance companies in 2010, "owes its existence to state law, which authorized its creation, granted it powers, including powers over local associations, and barred the creation of a competing state association."  The court noted that a prior instance of a $600,000 embezzlement by an NJSFA treasurer "reinforces [the Court's] conclusion that subjecting the Association to OPRA would fulfill the legislative intent to inform citizens interested in combating misconduct and corruption."

Further background on the lawsuit is on my blog here.  The NJSFA's official OPRA request form is on-line here.

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