Today, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided, John Paff v. Galloway Twp., and Thalia C. Kay, a case in which the League joined as Amicus. This decision was widely anticipated as it addressed the scope of a municipality’s obligation to disclose electronically stored information in accordance with the New Jersey Open Public Records Act (OPRA).
The Court ruled against the Township of Galloway and found that government records include “information stored or maintained electronically” and that, “information stored or maintained electronically” includes any information stored electronically. The effect of this ruling is that it widens the scope of what can be requested and must be provided under OPRA. According to the Court’s decision, information such as an email’s; sender, recipient, date, and subject constitute a government record and, absent any exception or exemption to OPRA, must be provided upon request from the citizenry.
The now widened scope of what is considered a government record under OPRA is not limited to the ancillary information associated with emails as dealt with in Paff. The ramifications of the Court’s ruling are far more widespread. It is not difficult to imagine what information can be requested and must be provided now that the scope of government record has been widened to include any electronically stored information.
Even though the boundaries of what constitutes a government record has been expanded the Court remained cognizant of the balancing act between disclosure and privacy concerns that record custodians are faced when dealing with OPRA requests. Keeping these two important issues in mind along with public policy reasons for the various exceptions and exemptions to OPRA, the Court reiterated that all government records are subject to being withheld from disclosure should they meet one of the exceptions or exemption. So, while the scope of what is a government record has been broadened to include any electronically stored information, a government entity subject to OPRA maintains the ability to withhold disclosure should doing so be barred under the exceptions or exemptions to the law.
This ruling and the effects it has on your municipality should be reviewed with your municipal attorney. In addition this information should be shared with your clerk and other various record custodians within your municipality.
Contact: Frank Marshall, Esq., League Staff Attorney, firstname.lastname@example.org, 609-695-3481 x. 137.