The Appellate Division recently held, in A.A. v. Gramiccioni, that OPRA plaintiffs may not file anonymous court complaints. Although this opinion only dealt with OPRA cases filed in the Superior Court, the Appellate Division’s reasoning suggests that the GRC’s longstanding practice of accepting anonymous complaints is legally deficient.
The GRC’s website shows that it has handled about 10 complaints over the past several years filed by “Anonymous.” There’s no indication that any party in these cases raised the issue of whether it is appropriate to allow a complainant to proceed anonymously.
In A.A. the Appellate Division upheld dismissal of the anonymous complaint on the basis that the plaintiff did not file an order to show cause and verified complaint, as required by court rules for OPRA actions. An anonymous plaintiff, of course, cannot verify the complaint, because a verification requires an affidavit sworn to by the plaintiff.
The same problem exists in GRC cases. The GRC mandates that all complainants verify their complaints. Section 6 of the GRC’s required complaint, entitled “Verification of Complaint,” requires the complainant to affirm various statements, including that the information in the complaint is “true to the best of my knowledge and belief,” and then provide his or her signature. But as determined by the court in A.A., an anonymous requestor cannot provide such verification.
The court also noted other reasons why litigants must reveal their identities, such as for purposes of ensuring that the claim in question has not already been litigated by the plaintiff, and for checking whether an attorney has a conflict of interest. These issues can come up in a GRC case as well.
In fact, OPRA expressly prohibits requestors from filing the same denial of access complaint in both the GRC and the court. If a GRC complainant is completely anonymous, there’s no way to know whether he or she is simultaneously pursuing the same claim in the Superior Court.
These issues show that the GRC needs to review its procedures and promulgate new rules concerning complainants who seek to be anonymous.