Case Name: John Paff v. Bergen County et al.
Docket Number: BER-L-7739-14 (trial level); A-1839-14 (Appellate Division)
County / Vicinage: Bergen
Filing Date: August 8, 2014
Judge: Doyne, Peter E. (trial level)
Status: Closed. (Appellate Division ruling released on March 13, 2017)
Paff sought a list of Internal Affairs complaints against corrections officers who work in the Bergen County Jail, but received a redacted list in response to his June 19, 2014 OPRA request. Paff filed an OPRA lawsuit in Bergen County Superior Court on August 8, 2014 seeking an un-redacted copy of the list.
In his October 16, 2014 decision, Judge Doyne ruled that the list is subject to disclosure under OPRA and that the “Attorney General Guidelines” are not a recognized exception to OPRA’s general requirement favoring disclosure of government records. Doyne’s November 6, 2014 order awarded Paff attorney fees and required the defendant to provide Paff an un-redacted list of the Internal Affairs complaints.
Subsequently, the defendant appealed the decision and filed for a stay of Doyne’s order, which Doyne granted on Feb. 26, 2015.
Appellate Division ruling released on March 13, 2017:
The Appellate Division reversed the Trial Court and held that a log of complaints against corrections officers was not a public record pursuant to the New Jersey Attorney General’s Internal Affairs Guidelines and the security exemption. The Defendants provided a redacted log, and the Appellate Division held that the redactions were justified. The Court held that the Guidelines and the security exemption, when read together, provided a sufficient basis for redacting the Internal Affairs log. Finally, the Court rejected the Plaintiff’s argument that the Plaintiff was entitled to attorney’s fees as a prevailing party because the Defendants did not provide the Plaintiff with the reasons for the redactions at the time they responded to Plaintiff’s OPRA request. The Court held that fees are awarded for the production of documents, not for the failure to provide reasons for making redactions.
This decision, although unpublished, will make it more difficult, if not highly unlikely, for any person to get access to Internal Affairs documents under OPRA, highlighting the need for legislation on this point.
Verified complaint, order to show cause, and letter brief:
Trial Court decision:
Trial Court decision to grant stay of Order:
Defendant’s Notice of Appeal:
Appellate Division decision:
Unpublished trial court OPRA opinion
Bergen County appeals court’s decision that disclosed jail internal affairs records.
Stay is granted despite County’s “flagrant disregard” of court’s order.
Burlington Judge rebuffs PBA, orders disclosure of redacted log of internal affairs complaints against county corrections officers.
Local Bergen PD honors Judge Doyne’s decision–Releases Internal Affairs charges.
Fort Lee Police disclose some Internal Affairs records