The Appellate Division issued a published opinion today that states what should be self evident: a requestor may not file an OPRA lawsuit for an award of attorney fees after it has received the records requested. Stop & Shop v. County of Bergen.
Stop & Shop submitted a request in 2011 and received various documents. It submitted a similar request in 2014. This time, the County’s response included a few documents that apparently should have been provided in response to the 2011 request. The court’s opinion does not explain why these records were not originally provided.
Stop & Shop filed suit claiming violations of OPRA and the common law and seeking attorney fees. The court held that this action was moot because plaintiff had received the records before it filed the complaint–in short, it had not been denied access to records.
The court rejected Stop & Shop’s argument that it was entitled to attorney fees, on the ground that its litigation was not the catalyst for the production of the documents.
As noted, this opinion was published, meaning it has precedential force. The opinion should serve as a valuable reminder of a principle that some requestors ignore: the purpose of OPRA litigation is to obtain records for the requestor, not simply an award of attorney fees.