New Jersey Right to Know Law (Open Public Records Act)

Laws of 1963 chapter 73, as amended by Laws of 2001 chapter 404.

Note:   Sections 15 and 16 of this act shall take effect immediately and expire upon the date that the Privacy Study Commission submits its report to the Governor and the Legislature and the remainder of the act shall take effect on the 180th day after enactment , except that public agencies may take such anticipatory administrative action in advance as shall be necessary for the implementation of the act.

Approved January 8, 2002.

Contents

47:1A-1 Legislative findings, declarations.

1. The Legislature finds and declares it to be the public policy of this State that:

L.1963,c.73,s.1; amended 2001, c.404, s.1.

47:1A-1.1 Definitions.

1. As used in P.L.1963, c.73 (C.47:1A-1 et seq.) as amended and supplemented :

L.1995,c.23,s.1; amended 2001, c.404, s.2.

47:1A-1.2 Restricted access to biotechnology trade secrets.

2. a. When federal law or regulation requires the submission of biotechnology trade secrets and related confidential information, a public agency shall not have access to this information except as allowed by federal law.

b.A public agency shall not make any biotechnology trade secrets and related confidential information it has access to under this act available to any other public agency, or to the general public, except as allowed pursuant to federal law.

L.1995,c.23,s.2; amended 2001, c.404, s.3.

47:1A-2.2 Access to certain information by convict prohibited; exceptions.

1. a. Notwithstanding the provisions of P.L.1963, c.73 (C.47:1A-1 et seq.) or the provisions of any other law to the contrary, where it shall appear that a person who is convicted of any indictable offense under the laws of this State, any other state or the United States is seeking government records containing personal information pertaining to the person's victim or the victim's family, including but not limited to a victim's home address, home telephone number, work or school address, work telephone number, social security account number, medical history or any other identifying information, the right of access provided for in P.L.1963, c.73 (C.47:1A-1 et seq.) as amended and supplemented shall be denied.

b. A government record containing personal identifying information which is protected under the provisions of this section may be released only if the information is necessary to assist in the defense of the requestor. A determination that the information is necessary to assist in the requestor's defense shall be made by the court upon motion by the requestor or his representative.

c. Notwithstanding the provisions of P.L.1963, c.73 (C.47:1A-1 et seq.) as amended and supplemented, or any other law to the contrary, a custodian shall not comply with an anonymous request for a government record which is protected under the provisions of this section.

L.1998,c.17,s.1; amended 2001, c.404, s.4.

47:1A-3 Access to records of investigation in progress.

3. a. Notwithstanding the provisions of P.L.1963, c.73 (C.47:1A-1 et seq.) as amended and supplemented, where it shall appear that the record or records which are sought to be inspected, copied, or examined shall pertain to an investigation in progress by any public agency, the right of access provided for in P.L.1963, c.73 (C.47:1A-1 et seq.) as amended and supplemented may be denied if the inspection, copying or examination of such record or records shall be inimical to the public interest; provided, however, that this provision shall not be construed to allow any public agency to prohibit access to a record of that agency that was open for public inspection, examination, or copying before the investigation commenced. Whenever a public agency, during the course of an investigation, obtains from another public agency a government record that was open for public inspection, examination or copying before the investigation commenced, the investigating agency shall provide the other agency with sufficient access to the record to allow the other agency to comply with requests made pursuant to P.L.1963, c.73 (C.47:1A-1 et seq.).

b. Notwithstanding the provisions of P.L.1963, c.73 (C.47:1A-1 et seq.), as amended and supplemented, the following information concerning a criminal investigation shall be available to the public within 24 hours or as soon as practicable, of a request for such information:

Notwithstanding any other provision of this subsection, where it shall appear that the information requested or to be examined will jeopardize the safety of any person or jeopardize any investigation in progress or may be otherwise inappropriate to release, such information may be withheld.   This exception shall be narrowly construed to prevent disclosure of information that would be harmful to a bona fide law enforcement purpose or the public safety.   Whenever a law enforcement official determines that it is necessary to withhold information, the official shall issue a brief statement explaining the decision.

L.1963,c.73,s.3; amended 2001, c.404, s.5.

47:1A-5 Times during which records may be inspected, examined, copied; access; copy fees.

6. a. The custodian of a government record shall permit the record to be inspected, examined, and copied by any person during regular business hours; or in the case of a municipality having a population of 5,000 or fewer according to the most recent federal decennial census, a board of education having a total district enrollment of 500 or fewer, or a public authority having less than $10 million in assets, during not less than six regular business hours over not less than three business days per week or the entity's regularly-scheduled business hours, whichever is less; unless a government record is exempt from public access by: P.L.1963, c.73 (C.47:1A-1 et seq.) as amended and supplemented; any other statute; resolution of either or both houses of the Legislature; regulation promulgated under the authority of any statute or Executive Order of the Governor; Executive Order of the Governor; Rules of Court; any federal law; federal regulation; or federal order. Prior to allowing access to any government record, the custodian thereof shall redact from that record any information which discloses the social security number, credit card number, unlisted telephone number, or driver license number of any person ; except for use by any government agency, including any court or law enforcement agency, in carrying out its functions, or any private person or entity acting on behalf thereof, or any private person or entity seeking to enforce payment of court-ordered child support; except with respect to the disclosure of driver information by the Division of Motor Vehicles as permitted by section 2 of P.L.1997, c.188 (C.39:2-3.4); and except that a social security number contained in a record required by law to be made, maintained or kept on file by a public agency shall be disclosed when access to the document or disclosure of that information is not otherwise prohibited by State or federal law, regulation or order or by State statute, resolution of either or both houses of the Legislature, Executive Order of the Governor, rule of court or regulation promulgated under the authority of any statute or executive order of the Governor. Except where an agency can demonstrate an emergent need, a regulation that limits access to government records shall not be retroactive in effect or applied to deny a request for access to a government record that is pending before the agency , the council or a court at the time of the adoption of the regulation.

b. A copy or copies of a government record may be purchased by any person upon payment of the fee prescribed by law or regulation, or if a fee is not prescribed by law or regulation, upon payment of the actual cost of duplicating the record. Except as otherwise provided by law or regulation, the fee assessed for the duplication of a government record embodied in the form of printed matter shall not exceed the following: first page to tenth page, $0.75 per page; eleventh page to twentieth page, $0.50 per page; all pages over twenty, $0.25 per page. The actual cost of duplicating the record shall be the cost of materials and supplies used to make a copy of the record, but shall not include the cost of labor or other overhead expenses associated with making the copy except as provided for in subsection c. of this section. If a public agency can demonstrate that its actual costs for duplication of a government record exceed the foregoing rates, the public agency shall be permitted to charge the actual cost of duplicating the record.

c. Whenever the nature, format, manner of collation, or volume of a government record embodied in the form of printed matter to be inspected, examined, or copied pursuant to this section is such that the record cannot be reproduced by ordinary document copying equipment in ordinary business size or involves an extraordinary expenditure of time and effort to accommodate the request, the public agency may charge, in addition to the actual cost of duplicating the record, a special service charge that shall be reasonable and shall be based upon the actual direct cost of providing the copy or copies ; provided, however, that in the case of a municipality, rates for the duplication of particular records when the actual cost of copying exceeds the foregoing rates shall be established in advance by ordinance. The requestor shall have the opportunity to review and object to the charge prior to it being incurred.

d. A custodian shall permit access to a government record and provide a copy thereof in the medium requested if the public agency maintains the record in that medium. If the public agency does not maintain the record in the medium requested, the custodian shall either convert the record to the medium requested or provide a copy in some other meaningful medium. If a request is for a record: (1) in a medium not routinely used by the agency; (2) not routinely developed or maintained by an agency; or (3) requiring a substantial amount of manipulation or programming of information technology, the agency may charge, in addition to the actual cost of duplication, a special charge that shall be reasonable and shall be based on the cost for any extensive use of information technology, or for the labor cost of personnel providing the service, that is actually incurred by the agency or attributable to the agency for the programming, clerical, and supervisory assistance required, or both.

e. Immediate access ordinarily shall be granted to budgets, bills, vouchers, contracts, including collective negotiations agreements and individual employment contracts, and public employee salary and overtime information.

f. The custodian of a public agency shall adopt a form for the use of any person who requests access to a government record held or controlled by the public agency. The form shall provide space for the name, address, and phone number of the requestor and a brief description of the government record sought. The form shall include space for the custodian to indicate which record will be made available, when the record will be available, and the fees to be charged. The form shall also include the following: (1) specific directions and procedures for requesting a record; (2) a statement as to whether prepayment of fees or a deposit is required; (3) the time period within which the public agency is required by P.L.1963, c.73 (C.47:1A-1 et seq.) as amended and supplemented, to make the record available; (4) a statement of the requestor's right to challenge a decision by the public agency to deny access and the procedure for filing an appeal; (5) space for the custodian to list reasons if a request is denied in whole or in part; (6) space for the requestor to sign and date the form; (7) space for the custodian to sign and date the form if the request is fulfilled or denied. The custodian may require a deposit against costs for reproducing documents sought through an anonymous request whenever the custodian anticipates that the information thus requested will cost in excess of $5 to reproduce.

g. A request for access to a government record shall be in writing and hand-delivered, mailed, transmitted electronically, or otherwise conveyed to the appropriate custodian. A custodian shall promptly comply with a request to inspect, examine, copy, or provide a copy of a government record. If the custodian is unable to comply with a request for access, the custodian shall indicate the specific basis therefor on the request form and promptly return it to the requestor. The custodian shall sign and date the form and provide the requestor with a copy thereof. If the custodian of a government record asserts that part of a particular record is exempt from public access pursuant to P.L.1963, c.73 (C.47:1A-1 et seq.) as amended and supplemented, the custodian shall delete or excise from a copy of the record that portion which the custodian asserts is exempt from access and shall promptly permit access to the remainder of the record. If the government record requested is temporarily unavailable because it is in use or in storage, the custodian shall so advise the requestor and shall make arrangements to promptly make available a copy of the record. If a request for access to a government record would substantially disrupt agency operations, the custodian may deny access to the record after attempting to reach a reasonable solution with the requestor that accommodates the interests of the requestor and the agency.

h. Any officer or employee of a public agency who receives a request for access to a government record shall forward the request to the custodian of the record or direct the requestor to the custodian of the record.

i. Unless a shorter time period is otherwise provided by statute, regulation, or executive order, a custodian of a government record shall grant access to a government record or deny a request for access to a government record as soon as possible, but not later than seven business days after receiving the request , provided that the record is currently available and not in storage or archived. In the event a custodian fails to respond within seven business days after receiving a request, the failure to respond shall be deemed a denial of the request, unless the requestor has elected not to provide a name, address or telephone number, or other means of contacting the requestor. If the requestor has elected not to provide a name, address, or telephone number, or other means of contacting the requestor, the custodian shall not be required to respond until the requestor reappears before the custodian seeking a response to the original request. If the government record is in storage or archived, the requestor shall be so advised within seven business days after the custodian receives the request. The requestor shall be advised by the custodian when the record can be made available. If the record is not made available by that time, access shall be deemed denied.

j. A custodian shall post prominently in public view in the part or parts of the office or offices of the custodian that are open to or frequented by the public a statement that sets forth in clear, concise and specific terms the right to appeal a denial of, or failure to provide, access to a government record by any person for inspection, examination, or copying or for purchase of copies thereof and the procedure by which an appeal may be filed.

k.The files maintained by the Office of the Public Defender that relate to the handling of any case shall be considered confidential and shall not be open to inspection by any person unless authorized by law, court order, or the State Public Defender.

L.2001,c.404,s.6.

47:1A-6 Proceeding to challenge denial of access to record.

7. A person who is denied access to a government record by the custodian of the record, at the option of the requestor, may:

The right to institute any proceeding under this section shall be solely that of the requestor. Any such proceeding shall proceed in a summary or expedited manner. The public agency shall have the burden of proving that the denial of access is authorized by law. If it is determined that access has been improperly denied, the court or agency head shall order that access be allowed. A requestor who prevails in any proceeding shall be entitled to a reasonable attorney's fee.

L.2001,c.404,s.7.

47:1A-7 Government Records Council.

8. a. There is established in the Department of Community Affairs a Government Records Council. The council shall consist of the Commissioner of Community Affairs or the commissioner's designee, the Commissioner of Education or the commissioner's designee, and three public members appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate, not more than two of whom shall be of the same political party. The three public members shall serve during the term of the Governor making the appointment and until the appointment of a successor. A public member shall not hold any other State or local elected or appointed office or employment while serving as a member of the council. A public member shall not receive a salary for service on the council but shall be reimbursed for reasonable and necessary expenses associated with serving on the council and may receive such per diem payment as may be provided in the annual appropriations act. A member may be removed by the Governor for cause. Vacancies among the public members shall be filled in the same manner in which the original appointment was made. The members of the council shall choose one of the public members to serve as the council's chair. The council may employ an executive director and such professional and clerical staff as it deems necessary and may call upon the Department of Community Affairs for such assistance as it deems necessary and may be available to it.

b. The Government Records Council shall:

In implementing the provisions of subsections d. and e. of this section, the council shall: act, to the maximum extent possible, at the convenience of the parties; utilize teleconferencing, faxing of documents, e-mail and similar forms of modern communication; and when in-person meetings are necessary, send representatives to meet with the parties at a location convenient to the parties.

c. At the request of the council, a public agency shall produce documents and ensure the attendance of witnesses with respect to the council's investigation of any complaint or the holding of any hearing.

d. Upon receipt of a written complaint signed by any person alleging that a custodian of a government record has improperly denied that person access to a government record, the council shall offer the parties the opportunity to resolve the dispute through mediation. Mediation shall enable a person who has been denied access to a government record and the custodian who denied or failed to provide access thereto to attempt to mediate the dispute through a process whereby a neutral mediator, who shall be trained in mediation selected by the council, acts to encourage and facilitate the resolution of the dispute. Mediation shall be an informal, nonadversarial process having the objective of helping the parties reach a mutually acceptable, voluntary agreement. The mediator shall assist the parties in identifying issues, foster joint problem solving, and explore settlement alternatives.

e. If any party declines mediation or if mediation fails to resolve the matter to the satisfaction of all parties, the council shall initiate an investigation concerning the facts and circumstances set forth in the complaint. The council shall make a determination as to whether the complaint is within its jurisdiction or frivolous or without any reasonable factual basis. If the council shall conclude that the complaint is outside its jurisdiction, frivolous or without factual basis, it shall reduce that conclusion to writing and transmit a copy thereof to the complainant and to the records custodian against whom the complaint was filed. Otherwise, the council shall notify the records custodian against whom the complaint was filed of the nature of the complaint and the facts and circumstances set forth therein. The custodian shall have the opportunity to present the board with any statement or information concerning the complaint which the custodian wishes. If the council is able to make a determination as to a record's accessibility based upon the complaint and the custodian's response thereto, it shall reduce that conclusion to writing and transmit a copy thereof to the complainant and to the records custodian against whom the complaint was filed. If the council is unable to make a determination as to a record's accessibility based upon the complaint and the custodian's response thereto, the council shall conduct a hearing on the matter in conformity with the rules and regulations provided for hearings by a state agency in contested cases under the "Administrative Procedure Act," P.L.1968, c.410 (C.52:14B-1 et seq.), insofar as they may be applicable and practicable. The council shall, by a majority vote of its members, render a decision as to whether the record which is the subject of the complaint is a government record which must be made available for public access pursuant to P.L.1963, c.73 (C.47:1A-1 et seq.) as amended and supplemented. If the council determines, by a majority vote of its members, that a custodian has knowingly and willfully violated P.L.1963, c.73 (C.47:1A-1 et seq.), as amended and supplemented, and is found to have unreasonably denied access under the totality of the circumstances, the council may impose the penalties provided for in section 12 of P.L.2001, c.404 (C.47:1A-6). A decision of the council may be appealed to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court. A decision of the council shall not have value as a precedent for any case initiated in Superior Court pursuant to section 7 of P.L.2001, c.404 (C.47:1A-6). All proceedings of the council pursuant to this subsection shall be conducted as expeditiously as possible.

f. The council shall not charge any party a fee in regard to actions filed with the council. The council shall be subject to the provisions of the "Open Public Meetings Act," P.L.1975, c.231 (C.10:4-6), except that the council may go into closed session during that portion of any proceeding during which the contents of a contested record would be disclosed. A requestor who prevails in any proceeding shall be entitled to a reasonable attorney's fee.

g. The council shall not have jurisdiction over the Judicial or Legislative Branches of State Government or any agency, officer, or employee of those branches.

L.2001,c.404,s.8.

47:1A-8 Construction of act.

9. Nothing contained in P.L.1963, c.73 (C.47:1A-1 et seq.) , as amended and supplemented , shall be construed as limiting the common law right of access to a government record, including criminal investigatory records of a law enforcement agency.

L.2001,c.404,s.9.

47:1A-9 Other laws regulations, privileges unaffected.

10. a. The provisions of this act, P.L.2001, c.404 (C.47:1A-5 et al.), shall not abrogate any exemption of a public record or government record from public access heretofore made pursuant to P.L.1963, c.73 (C.47:1A-1 et seq.); any other statute; resolution of either or both Houses of the Legislature; regulation promulgated under the authority of any statute or Executive Order of the Governor; Executive Order of the Governor; Rules of Court; any federal law; federal regulation; or federal order.

b. The provisions of this act,P.L.2001, c.404 (C.47:1A-5 et al.), shall not abrogate or erode any executive or legislative privilege or grant of confidentiality heretofore established or recognized by the Constitution of this State, statute, court rule or judicial case law, which privilege or grant of confidentiality may duly be claimed to restrict public access to a public record or government record.

L.2001,c.404,s.10.

47:1A-10 Personnel, pension records not considered public document; exceptions.

11. Notwithstanding the provisions of P.L.1963, c.73 (C.47:1A-1 et seq.) or any other law to the contrary, the personnel or pension records of any individual in the possession of a public agency , including but not limited to records relating to any grievance filed by or against an individual, shall not be considered a government record and shall not be made available for public access, except that:

L.2001,c.404,s.11.

47:1A-11 Violations, penalties, disciplinary proceeding.

12. a. A public official, officer, employee or custodian who knowingly and willfully violates P.L.1963, c.73 (C.47:1A-1 et seq.), as amended and supplemented, and is found to have unreasonably denied access under the totality of the circumstances, shall be subject to a civil penalty of $1,000 for an initial violation, $2,500 for a second violation that occurs within 10 years of an initial violation, and $5,000 for a third violation that occurs within 10 years of an initial violation. This penalty shall be collected and enforced in proceedings in accordance with the "Penalty Enforcement Law of 1999," P.L.1999, c.274 (C.2A:58-10 et seq.), and the rules of court governing actions for the collection of civil penalties. The Superior Court shall have jurisdiction of proceedings for the collection and enforcement of the penalty imposed by this section.

Appropriate disciplinary proceedings may be initiated against a public official, officer, employee or custodian against whom a penalty has been imposed.

L.2001,c.404,s.12.

47:1A-12 Court rules.

13. The New Jersey Supreme Court may adopt such court rules as it deems necessary to effectuate the purposes of this act.

L.2001,c.404,s.13.

47:1A-13 Annual budget request for the council.

14. The Commissioner of Community Affairs shall include in the annual budget request of the Department of Community Affairs a request for sufficient funds to effectuate the purposes of section 8 of P.L.2001, c.404 (C.47:1A-7).

L.2001,c.404,s.14.