CASE SUMMARY: NJFOG v. Spotswood Board of Education

 

Case Name:  NJFOG v. Spotswood Board of Education
Docket Number:  MID-L-4615-16
County / Vicinage:  Middlesex
Filing Date:  August 8, 2016
Presiding Judge:  Vignuolo, Lisa M. (formerly Francis, Travis L.)
Status:  Closed

 

Overview:

The complaint alleges multiple violations of the OPMA and OPRA. The OPRA request that gave rise to the lawsuit was for the Board’s eight most recent nonpublic meetings (executive or closed sessions), the resolutions that authorized them, and fifty-seven sets of minutes for public meetings (open session) held in the last few years.

OPMA counts in the complaint cite the Board for minutes that are not sufficiently detailed and that fail to list the time and place of the meeting or the members present. NJFOG also alleges that the Board either did not advertise its meetings in two newspapers or failed to accurately convey in the minutes the manner in which notice was given.

OPRA counts include failure to provide the requested documents. In response to the OPRA request, the records custodian directed the requestor to a website, which was very disorganized, to retrieve the records. NJFOG takes no issue with being directed to the website or with the website’s disorganization, but rather with the fact that most of the requested records were not there. All but one of the records were subsequently posted to the website by the agency about two weeks later, and the remaining record was not yet provided as of the date the complaint was filed.

The OPRA claims were settled by an October 2016 agreement in which the Spotswood Board agreed to pay $2,500 toward NJFOG’s legal costs.

In a January 7, 2017 court order, Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Lisa M. Vignuolo ruled that the Spotswood Board of Education violated the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) in five different ways. Vignuolo found that the Board violated OPMA by failing to:

  1.  Inform the public of the topics to be discussed in closed meetings;
  2.  Inform the public when the discussion held in closed session would be publicly disclosed;
  3.  Keep reasonably comprehensible minutes of its closed meetings;
  4.  Notify at least two newspapers in advance of its public meetings; and
  5.  Set forth in its public meeting minutes the manner in which the meeting was advertised to the public.

 

Case Documents:

Complaint and Brief
http://njfog.org/files/2016/08/NJFOG-v-Spotswood-BOE-complaint-and-brief.pdf

Order to Show Cause (OPRA counts)
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B62zIy-MpCRodUJpMVF0SERlWVE/view?usp=sharing

NJFOG’s summary judgment motion, Spotswood BOE’s opposition to the motion, and NJFOG’s reply to that opposition
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B62zIy-MpCRoTUk3NWRmQmJLdjA/view?usp=sharing

Order granting summary judgment (OPMA counts)
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B62zIy-MpCRoZXdqa29yeUg0SWs/view?usp=sharing

 

Press Release(s):

Sept. 1, 2016
Spotswood School Board meeting minutes don’t make the grade, lawsuit claims
http://njfog.org/2016/09/01/spotswood-school-board-meeting-minutes-dont-make-grade-lawsuit-claims/

 

Related Posts:

 

Jan. 28, 2014
Spotswood school board asked to improve its executive session minutes
http://njopengovt.blogspot.com/2014/01/spotswood-school-board-asked-to-improve.html

Feb. 13, 2014
Advocate takes issue with school board minutes
http://njfog.org/2014/02/13/2605/

Feb. 19, 2014
Better OPMA compliance promised by Spotswood school board
http://njopengovt.blogspot.com/2014/02/better-compliance-promised-by-spotswood.html

Sept. 13, 2016
Lawsuit alleges deficiencies with minutes, meeting notices in Spotswood
http://www.gmnews.com/2016/09/13/lawsuit-alleges-deficiencies-with-minutes-meeting-notices-in-spotswood/

Jan. 19, 2017
Spotswood Board of Ed found in violation of meetings act
http://www.mycentraljersey.com/story/news/education/2017/01/19/spotswood-board-ed-found-violation-meetings-act/96779242/

March 16, 2017
Judge: Spotswood Board of Education Violated Transparency Law
http://newbrunswicktoday.com/article/judge-spotswood-board-education-violated-transparency-law