What to do when your OPRA request is denied?
There are several reasons that an OPRA request might be denied. Perhaps your request as written is unclear or over broad. Alternatively, you might have requested records that are subject to one of OPRA’s many exemptions. OPRA places the obligation upon the public agency to tell you why your request is denied so that you are not left guessing.
Sometimes the agency is wrong and the custodian is either mistakenly or knowingly denying a valid request for records that are not exempt. If you disagree with a denial of access or are uncertain whether the denial is lawful, the best course of action is to immediately speak to an attorney, who can work with you to gain access to the records or help you clarify your request.
Although requestors do have the option of pursuing a denial of access for free in the Government Records Council (GRC), in our experience it is MUCH better to file a lawsuit in the Superior Court because the process is significantly faster. A lawsuit in Superior Court will be resolved in 2-3 months, while a GRC case may take 18 to 24 months (or even longer).
The most important thing to remember is that your lawsuit must be filed within the statute of limitations, which is 45 days. That’s right: you only have 45 days from the date of a denial to find an attorney and sue. In most instances, there is no need for discovery or any court appearances by the requestor. Your attorney does all of the work on your behalf.
OPRA contains a fee-shifting provision that requires public agencies to pay the legal fees of prevailing parties. This empowers requestors to find attorneys like those at Pashman Stein Walder Hayden who will sue on a contingency basis and at no cost to the requestor. We have litigated cases all the way to the New Jersey Supreme Court and never charged the requestor any fees. When we lose, we write off the costs.
Again, the most important thing to remember is that there is a very short timeline for filing the lawsuit – 45 days from the date your request was denied.
Contact us immediately if you have a denial that you would like us to review: