Open Public Records Act (OPRA)
Transparency in Local Government
The following is an information center for local governments pertaining to the New Jersey Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the New Jersey Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA). These laws impact the lives of local officials daily; as such the League often holds seminars on OPRA and OPMA, the dates of which can be found here. Below are a number of written resources for your use.
New Jersey Open Public Records Act (OPRA)
The Open Public Meetings Act, popularly known as the "Sunshine Law," was approved on October 21, 1975, and became effective on January 19, 1976 (PL 1975, chapter 231). The Sunshine Law was enacted in response to growing public cynicism about politics and distrust of government in the wake of the Vietnam War and Watergate. The intent of the Sunshine Law was to have government meetings conducted in the open, to the greatest extent possible, consistent with the public interest and without invading individual privacy.
Guide to the Open Public Records Act
Published by New Jersey State League of Municipalities, this guide (PDF) provides an overview of the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), sample forms and resolutions. The most current version was updated in January 2014 and is available for purchase through our form (PDF). The following is an excerpt from the guide:
"The two most important definitions to local elected officials are "government record" and "public agency." For the purposes of OPRA, "government record" means: any paper, written or printed book, document, drawing, map, plan, photograph, microfilm, data processed or image processed document, information stored or maintained electronically or by sound-recording or in a similar device, or any copy thereof, that has been made, maintained or kept on file in the course of his or its official business by any officer, commission, agency or authority of the State or of any political subdivision thereof, including subordinate boards thereof, or that has been received in the course of his or its official business by any such officer, commission, agency, or authority of the State or of any political subdivision thereof, including subordinate boards thereof. The terms shall not include inter-agency or intra-agency advisory, consultative, or deliberative material.
Since only those materials deemed "government records" fall under OPRA, this definition is an important one."
Scope of Government Record Under OPRA Widens
Background on the New Jersey Supreme Court's decision of John Paff v. Galloway Township., and Thalia C. Kay. The decision addresses the scope of a municipality's obligation to disclose electronically stored information in accordance with the New Jersey Open Public Records Act (OPRA). Posted on New Jersey State League of Municipalities blog, The Town Crier.
New Jersey Supreme Court Narrows Scope of OPRA Exemption
Background on the New Jersey Supreme Court's decision in North Jersey Media Group, Inc., v. Township of Lyndhurst, et al., a case attempting to clarify the scope of the ‘criminal investigatory record' and ‘records of investigations in progress' exemptions to the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). This case also touched upon the common law right of access. Posted on New Jersey State League of Municipalities blog, The Town Crier.
The Government Records Council
New Jersey Supreme Court Rules on Filing Period & Attorneys Fees in Open Public Records Act (OPRA) Cases
In the case of Mason v. Hoboken, A-22-07, decided on July 22, 2008, the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division finding that the 45-day filing period of Rule 4:69-6(a), governing actions in lieu of prerogative writ, applies to OPRA suits filed in the Superior Court. The Court further found that a plaintiff suing in such an action over denial of an OPRA request who receives the documents during the suit is not necessarily a "prevailing party" entitled to recover attorneys' fees.
In this case, the plaintiff urged that a "rebuttable presumption" should exist in such a case that the plaintiff is a prevailing party entitled to such fees. The justices disagreed, instead supporting the "catalyst theory" in these matters, which allows attorneys fees in OPRA cases only if the requestor can prove facts establishing a "causal nexus" between the litigation and its receipt of the records. However, the Court said that a different standard would apply if an agency fails to respond at all to a request within the seven business days allowed under OPRA. In such cases, the burden shifts to the agency to prove that the suit was not the catalyst for its belated disclosure.
- I have heard that the Attorney General has specifically exempted attorneys from the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). Is this true, and if so, why are they given special treatment?
- Is email sent by a municipal employee subject to the Open Public Records Act? If so, what about email sent from his or her home computer?
- Our municipality is being sued in state court over denial of a variance and using OPRA. Doesn’t he need to use the discovery rules to obtain material concerning litigation as parties have always done?
- With Open Public Records Act (OPRA), what do I do with attorney-client privilege information, such as with detailed bills, when a request is sent?
- Is the financial disclosure form that I file under the Local Public Ethics law as a municipal official subject to release under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA)?
- I am a municipal clerk and a reporter for a regional newspaper recently called and asked for the salaries of all municipal employees. Do I have to release this information?