Monthly Archives: October 2017

Precedential Appellate Division Opinion Holds That Student Records Are Not Accessible Under OPRA

I’ve previously noted the difficult issue of whether OPRA requestors may obtain student records, in light of the privacy accorded to student information by education statutes. The Appellate Division recently answered this question. In a precedential opinion authored by Judge Sabatino, the court said that student records are not accessible under OPRA. L.R. v. Camden City School Dist., etc.

The plaintiffs in this case submitted OPRA requests for records related to special education students from a few school districts, and they indicated that they intended to request these records from every school district in the state. The Appellate Division held that OPRA does not grant public access to these records; instead, it said, the limitations on access to student records contained in the pertinent DOE regulations are controlling.

The court emphasized that anyone requesting such records must comply with the procedures and substantive requirements of the DOE regulations, and it highlighted that student records are not open to everyone; rather, they may be accessed only by the specific entities and individuals listed in these regulations.

The court said it was premature to address any claims for attorney fees made by plaintiffs. This leaves open an interesting question for future cases: given the court’s ruling that the DOE regulation, not OPRA, is the vehicle for obtaining student records, is OPRA’s attorney fee award provision applicable in the event of litigation over access to student records?

GRC: Police Body Camera Footage Is Not Exempt Criminal Investigatory Record

The GRC has issued its first decision on the question of whether police body camera footage is accessible under OPRA. Dericks v. Sparta Twp. (Sept. 29, 2017).

The GRC ruled that the criminal investigatory exemption does not apply to police body camera video concerning a criminal matter, because these recordings are required by law–namely, an Attorney General Law Enforcement Directive–to be made, maintained or kept on file. See this post for a discussion of how the Supreme Court’s Lyndhurst opinion made clear that Attorney General Directives have the force of law for purposes of the criminal investigatory record exemption.

In a footnote, the GRC stated that the Attorney General’s Directive does not provide confidentiality to body camera recordings under OPRA. It noted that the Directive places restrictions on disclosure of these recordings, but interpreted the Directive as saying that the restrictions do not apply when responding to an OPRA request.

The language of the Directive doesn’t seem to support the GRC’s interpretation. I read the Directive as providing that OPRA requests for these records must be referred to the Division of Criminal Justice or the County Prosecutor for a determination of whether the public need for access outweighs the law enforcement interest in maintaining confidentiality.

It’s surprising the GRC chose to deal with the issue of the requirements of the Directive in the Dericks opinion, because it did not need to reach this question in this case. The GRC held that the recording in this case was exempt on another basis–a statute providing confidentiality to records pertaining to juveniles charged with delinquency.