OPRA As Litigation Tool

The New Jersey Open Public Records Act (“OPRA”) is an important litigation tool for gathering information, whether prior to suit or during the litigation process. It is particularly helpful when the dispute involves a public entity, public property or public employee.

Upon receiving an OPRA request, a public entity must respond within seven business days, which is far quicker than typical discovery response periods under the court rules.

It is critical to make an OPRA request specific. You generally cannot request an entire project file, but instead must identify the specific records within the file that you want to receive. A valid OPRA request does not require the records custodian to perform any research or analysis, nor can it ask the custodian to calculate data or answer questions. To be valid, an OPRA request must seek easily identifiable records by name, such as contracts, bills, meeting records, logbooks, emails, RFQs, vouchers or correspondence.

As mentioned above, if a request is valid, then the public entity has seven business days to respond and that response must be in writing. The response should either enclose the requested records, indicate why access to specific records is being denied, or request an extension of time to comply with the request if the request was extensive. If the records contain confidential information, the public entity may redact the confidential information but must grant access to the rest of the record. The public entity also must indicate why the redactions were made and redact as narrowly as possible.

In order to challenge a public entity’s denial of an OPRA request, the requestor may proceed by way of verified complaint and order to show cause in the Superior Court. The judge will determine in a few weeks typically whether the public entity’s denial was valid or otherwise direct the records be produced.

Experienced litigators know how to use OPRA to their best advantage in litigation matter. Contact Whelan Law today for all your Litigation attorney needs.

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