Filing an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request should be a very simple process. Although we encourage individuals to explore the archives on this blog for in-depth information, here’s a quick “how to” guide:
Identify the Records Custodian! The records custodian is the person who handles the agency’s OPRA requests. OPRA designates the municipal clerk to be the records custodian for municipalities. All other agencies must choose a custodian. For county governments, generally the Clerk to the Board of Chosen Freeholders is the designated custodian. The overwhelming majority of agencies will identify the custodian on the their websites and provide information about filing OPRA requests.
Draft a Valid OPRA Request! A valid request must sufficiently identify the documents that are being requested. Click here for detailed assistance on drafting a valid request and here for detailed assistance about requesting emails.
Submit Your Request! Here are some important things to know:
- OPRA requests must be submitted in writing.
- Many agencies have OPRA request forms on their websites, but a requestor does not have to use it. In most cases, one can submit an OPRA request by email to the custodian by simply copying and pasting the text of the request into the body of the email and putting “OPRA Request” in the subject line. It could also be delivered in person or by mail.
- For state agencies, use the OPRA portal and make sure to print a copy of the receipt: www.nj.gov/opra
- OPRA requests can be anonymous! To achieve this, use an unidentifiable email account such as OPRARequestor1234@gmail.com. Anonymous requests are not permitted for victims records, however.
- Clearly identify the preferred format, i.e. whether the agency should produce the budget in a PDF file or as an Excel file.
- Make sure to state a preferred method of delivery, i.e. by email, pick-up, or mail. Electronic PDF copies by email should be free; paper copies cost 5 cents per a page. CDs, thumb drives, and similar digital media will cost the “actual cost” of those items (plus any postage to mail it to you); an agency may not mark the cost up. It is wise to indicate the maximum amount one is willing to pay for the request (which could be zero) so that the custodian will know not to exceed that cost before contacting the requestor.
Receive a Response! Here are important things to know:
- An agency must respond within 7 business days. The time period starts the first business day after a request is filed.
- An agency’s response must be in writing.
- An agency’s response must grant access to the records, deny access to the records, ask for clarification, impose service fees, or seek an extension.
- If an agency asks for clarification, try to cooperate and clarify the request.
- If an agency denies a request, it must state the exemption that applies to each document that is withheld.
- If an agency redacts records, it must state the exemption that applies to each redaction.
- If an agency seeks to impose a service fee, it must state the cost to the requestor before filling it so that the requestor has the opportunity to object or to narrow the request to avoid the fee.
Challenge Unlawful Denials! A requestor has only 45 days to file a lawsuit if a request is unlawfully denied, so act fast. More information can be found here. Pashman Stein Walder Hayden generally litigates most OPRA cases on a contingency basis at no charge to a requestor.