Two courts rule for release of informal or draft settlement documents. Two more cases pending.

settlement check -289x300A 9/14/2016 decision by an Essex County Superior Court judge favored a records requestor seeking a settlement confirmation letter pertaining to a lawsuit against Caldwell Borough. The court ruled that the letter was disclosable under OPRA even though the settlement had not been formally approved.

That makes two such decisions now supporting the early release of settlement terms. The other ruling was on 9/1/2016 by a Passaic County Superior Court judge, who ruled for release of a draft settlement agreement involving William Paterson University.

These are important decisions because requestors often encounter resistance trying to get information about a settlement, even after it’s marked “settled” by the court or reported settled in the press. Even after terms have been agreed to, and often long after, requestors are told the agreement is not yet available or not yet signed by all parties or not yet formally adopted by the governing body.

In addition to the two decisions mentioned above, there are some pending cases on the issue:

A third case involves Jersey City.  At issue is whether a draft settlement agreement or settlement correspondence is disclosable under OPRA. The hearing was scheduled for 9/30/2016 in Hudson County Superior Court in Jersey City. The judge reserved decision and requested that additional briefs be filed; no new court date had been set as of 10/6/2016.

A fourth case in Mercer County, to be heard on 10/14/2016, concerns disclosure of a settlement email for a case filed against the College of New Jersey.

If you search “settlement agreement” or “settlement terms” on this site, you may find other posts on this topic and information about other pending cases.