In a consolidated opinion, the Appellate Division issued its decision in Harry Scheeler v. City of Cape May, a case which the League joined as amicus curiae. This case concerned the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and specifically sought to answer the question: Does a person who is not a resident or domiciliary of New Jersey have standing to file a request for public records under OPRA, or are rights under OPRA restricted to “citizens” of New Jersey?
Unfortunately, the court ruled against municipalities and the League, and found that there is universal standing to submit OPRA requests, regardless of residency. Meaning, OPRA requests made by out-of-state requestors and even from those in foreign countries must be fulfilled, all at the expense of New Jersey taxpayers. The court reasoned that the legislative intent of the OPRA law was to provide for transparency to all requestors, despite the law’s seemingly unambiguous language that, “government records shall be readily accessible for inspection, copying, or examination by the citizens of this State.”
Because this is a published opinion the decision must be followed throughout the state. There is still an opportunity for an appeal to the State Supreme Court where the Appellate Division’s ruling could be overturned. We will be sure to keep our members informed on this matter. You should review this decision with your municipal attorney as well as your municipal clerk for more information on this ruling and its impact on your municipality.
Contact: Frank Marshall, Esq., League Staff Attorney, FMarshall@njslom.org, 609-695-3481, Ext. 137.