2017 was the most significant year for OPRA law since the enactment of the statute in 2002. The Supreme Court decided four OPRA cases in 2017, a remarkably high number in view of how few cases the Court grants review of each year. The Supreme Court and the Appellate Division issued many important rulings during this past year, which dealt with a number of crucial OPRA questions and dramatically reshaped OPRA law.
The Lyndhurst case, a landmark opinion involving the Court’s first interpretation of OPRA’s law enforcement records provisions, received the most attention from the media, which portrayed it as requiring greater public access to law enforcement records. As I’ve previously explained, this is simply wrong; the Supreme Court in fact held that most records connected with criminal investigations are not accessible under OPRA.
While the Lyndhurst opinion is extremely significant, I think the Supreme Court’s opinion in Paff v. Galloway Twp. will have a greater day-to-day effect on all public bodies. The Court’s determination that OPRA requires public bodies to produce any type of requested report from information in electronic databases will greatly increase the workload of those responsible for dealing with OPRA.
The Supreme Court’s other two opinions are important as well. The Court, in Matter of NJ State Firemens Assn Obligation to Provide Relief Applications, confirmed that OPRA strongly protects individuals’ privacy rights, and also addressed, for the first time, the ability of public bodies to file declaratory judgment actions concerning OPRA issues. And in Verry v. Franklin Fire Dist., the Court held that volunteer fire companies are not subject to OPRA.
The year is notable simply due to these Supreme Court rulings, but it should not be overlooked that the Appellate Division also issued a number of significant OPRA opinions, including several groundbreaking precedential opinions:
-North Jersey Media Group v. Governor’s Office–trial judges may impose fines for OPRA violations
-L.R. v. Camden School Dist.–student records are not accessible under OPRA
–Scheeler v. Governor’s Office--OPRA requests are public records
–Stop & Shop v. Bergen County–mootness of OPRA lawsuits