Supreme Court Issues Momentous Opinion: Information In A Database Is Government Record

The Supreme Court issued a groundbreaking OPRA opinion today, holding for the first time that requests for reports generated from information within electronic databases are valid. Paff v. Galloway Tp.

The request in this case sought a log showing the sender, recipient, date and subject matter of emails of certain Township employees over a specific period of time. The Township, of course, had the emails covered by the request, but would have to create a document displaying the information from these emails in the manner demanded by the request. Based on the longstanding rule that OPRA does not require the creation of a new record, the Appellate Division held that this request was invalid. But as I predicted after watching oral argument, the Supreme Court disagreed.

The Court ruled that where information is stored electronically, extracting it does not involve the creation of a new record. This holding was based on the  conclusion that “[b]y OPRA’s language, information in electronic form, even if part of a larger document, is itself a government record.”

The Court recognized that although the request here was valid, the Township had to be given an opportunity to assert any exemptions or other arguments (such as substantial disruption of agency operations) that might preclude disclosure of the information in question.

As discussed in this post, the holding that OPRA requires the compilation of a report from a database has substantial consequences for public bodies and their records custodians. In addition,  the Supreme Court’s new opinion has problematic ramifications for other aspects of OPRA law and practice, which I’ll discuss in subsequent posts.


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