For years, individuals have filed OPRA requests with agencies to obtain all of the OPRA requests an agency has received during a specific timeframe. Requestors use these records in a variety of ways, such as a) finding out how many OPRA requests an agency is handling during any specific timeframe (since agencies have no obligation to calculate that information and let the public know); b) being able to contact another member of the public who is interested in the same type of government issues; c) learning more about government by seeing what other requestors are seeking from their government.
While local governments have generally continued to comply with such requests, unfortunately in 2014 the State began denying all requests for OPRA requests (perhaps not coincidentally, when the requests began to ask for other requests about the Bridgegate scandal). The trial court ruled against the State, but the matters were stayed. Accordingly, since 2014, requestors have not been able to obtain copies of OPRA requests that were filed with any State agency.
Recently, however, the Appellate Division issued a published opinion and rejected the State’s appeal. In Scheeler v. Office of the Governor, __ N.J. Super. __ (2017), the Appellate Division held that there is no blanket exemption that permits an agency to deny access to all OPRA requests that were filed with the agency. While the Court noted that there may be circumstances where a single OPRA request might invoke a confidentiality concern (such as containing trade secrets), overwhelmingly that will not be the case.
The Court also re-affirmed its prior holdings and concluded that a request for all OPRA requests filed during a specific timeframe was valid and did not require “research.”
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