OPRA Requests Must Seek “Records,” Not “Information”

Burke v. Brandes, 429 N.J. Super. 169 (App. Div. 2012).  This opinion, by Judge Parrillo, addresses an Open Public Records Act (“OPRA”) request made to the Office of the Governor for government records regarding “EZ Pass benefits afforded to retirees of the Port Authority, including all … correspondence between the Office of the Governor … and the Port Authority ….”  In response, the Governor’s Office provided only one press release, and withheld all other documents based on claims of overbreadth, privilege, and exemptions permitted by OPRA.  Plaintiff sued, and the Law Division, finding his request impermissibly overbroad, dismissed his case.  Applying the de novo standard of review, the Appellate Division reversed.

Addressing the overbreadth issue, Judge Parrillo discussed a number of prior cases.  He emphasized that, under those cases, OPRA “only allows requests for records, not requests for information.”  Here, contrary to the finding of the Law Division, plaintiff’s OPRA request “was confined to a specific subject matter that was clearly and reasonably described with sufficient identifying information, namely, E-ZPass benefits provided to Port Authority retirees,” and was “limited to particularized identifiable government records, namely, correspondence with another government entity, rather than information generally.”  The decision should help clarify for both requestors and government agencies when requests are proper and when they are not.

The panel remanded the case for the Law Division to consider the Governor’s Office claims of privilege and exemptions.  Thus, it was not a complete win for plaintiff, but he did avoid a loss.