UPDATE (5/2/2016): The NJ Supreme Court has agreed to hear the Firemen’s Association’s appeal of the Appellate Division’s ruling that only requestors and not custodians can file an OPRA action and also regarding the duty to disclose records pertaining to relief payments.
A-68-15 In the Matter of the New Jersey State Fireman’s Association Obligation to Provide Relief Application (077097)
Can a government records custodian bring an action pursuant to the Declaratory Judgment Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:16-50 to -62, to secure a declaratory judgment that it properly denied access to a record under the Open Public Records Act, N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1 to -13, and the common law right of access; and, did this requestor have a right to access records pertaining to financial relief payments made by the Association?
Certification granted: 4/29/16
UPDATE (2/5/2016): The NJ State Firemen’s Association has asked the NJ Supreme Court to review the Appellate Division’s decision that there is no declaratory judgment action for public agencies with regard to records requests. Here is the NJSFA’s petition to the NJ Supreme Court and a brief filed in opposition to the petition.
December 18, 2015 — The NJ Appellate Division issued a ruling today in the matter of Carter v. NJ State Firemen’s Association (NJSFA) that only a records requestor can bring an OPRA lawsuit. The decision has statewide application.
The following is an excerpt from pages 2-3 of the decision:
“With respect to OPRA, we conclude that a records custodian may not bring a declaratory judgment action against a record requestor to enforce its right to withhold records, because OPRA does not provide the records custodian an independent right of action. As to both OPRA and the common law, declaratory relief was inappropriate in this case because the declaratory judgment action was essentially an effort to preempt an imminent claim by the records requestor; and allowing a declaratory judgment action solely with respect to the common law would unnecessarily fragment claims.”
Thus, the Court has ruled that the right to bring suit with respect to a records request belongs solely to the requestor, regardless of whether the records request is made under OPRA or the common law right of access.
Related articles here: