As we have recently written, agencies currently do not have to comply with OPRA’s 7-day deadline due to COVID-19. There is no such deadline relaxation for requestors to file OPRA lawsuits, however. Although there were prior orders by the Supreme Court that tolled such deadlines in March and April, those orders have now expired. Therefore, a person who receives a denial from a public agency must act very quickly. An OPRA suit must be filed within 45 calendar days from the date of the denial.
What should you do if an agency denies your request or otherwise violates OPRA?
The best course of action is to immediately speak to an OPRA attorney, who can review your denial and file a lawsuit on your behalf in Superior Court. Importantly, OPRA contains a fee-shifting provision that requires a public agency to pay a requestor’s legal fees when they prevail in court. This allows attorneys to represent you on a contingency basis, meaning there is no charge to you. The overwhelming majority of OPRA cases are handled with this fee-arrangement.
Typically, most OPRA lawsuits are resolved in Superior Court within 4-10 weeks either through settlement or a court order. This process is much faster than filing a complaint in the Government Records Council (GRC). Although the GRC is a free process, decisions are often not issued for two to three years. Therefore, we always recommend a Superior Court lawsuit.
Again, a requestor only has 45 calendar days to file an OPRA lawsuit. Given that it takes an attorney time to draft the lawsuit, it is best to act immediately after receiving a denial.
For more information about this blog post and challenging a denial of access, please contact CJ Griffin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 201-488-8200.