Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Chatham sued under OPRA for denying settlement agreements and redacting Tort Claims Notice

On Friday, August 29, 2014 at 1:45 p.m., the Hon. Thomas L. Weisenbeck, A.J.S.C. will hear argument in my Open Public Records Act (OPRA) case against the Township of Chatham (Morris County).  My civil complaint, exhibits and brief, filed by Walter M. Luers, Esq. of Clinton, are are on-line here.

At issue is Chatham Township's claim that the settlement agreements between the Township and Township police officer Michael Giannone and police sergeant Ed Gibney are exempt as "personnel records."  The Township also denied access to four pages of the Tort Claims Notice that Giannone filed with the Township.

In 2010, the New Jersey Supreme Court make it clear that settlement agreements that resolve civil lawsuits against New Jersey public agencies are public records.  See Asbury Park Press and John Paff v. Monmouth County.

In the present case, however, neither Giannone nor Gibney filed a lawsuit against Chatham.  Rather, they both filed Notices of Tort Claim, which put the Township on notice of their intent to sue, but both settled their matters with the Township prior to any lawsuit needing to be filed.

Gibney's Notice of Tort Claim, which was disclosed in response to my OPRA request, stated that Gibney's suspension from duty as "procedurally improper" and that the Township failed to provide him "'reasonable accommodations' for having a legally recognized disability for which the police department was on notice."  On February 18, 2014, Chatham passed Resolution 2014-064 which settled Gibney's claim without disclosing the terms of settlement.

Giannone's Notice of Tort Claim, while heavily redacted, disclosed that he allegedly "endured retaliation because he is the PBA President."  Ironically, Giannone also claimed that Chatham "refused to acknowledge and process two Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests that [he] submitted nearly two months ago." On September 12, 2013, the Chatham Township Committee passed Resolution 2013-181 which settled Giannone's claim without disclosing the terms of settlement.



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