Open Public Records Act Request Must Be In Writing

January 14, 2014 | No Comments
Posted by Paul Schneider

The Open Public Records Act, also known as “OPRA”, is an important tool for those trying to get information from State or local government agencies.  When the government denies access to public records in contravention of OPRA, or charges a copying fee in excess of that allowed by the statute, OPRA gives the citizen the right to sue the government and recover attorney’s fees.

In a case of first impression that resulted in a published decision, the Appellate Division of Superior Court has decided that in order to successfully sue the government for failure to comply with OPRA, the person requesting the documents must submit his request in writing.  In Bozzi v. Atlantic City, Mr. Bozzi went to the City offices and orally requested a copy of a bid package for a City project.  That same day, the City gave him the 69-page bid specification package and charged him a flat fee of $25.00, which he paid.  Mr. Bozzi then sued contending that the copying fee exceeded the maximum allowed by the statute.  The City defended on two bases.  First, it claimed that the documents sought by Mr. Bozzi – a bid package for a City project – were exempt from OPRA.  Second, the City claimed that a valid OPRA request must be made in writing.  The Court agreed with Mr. Bozzi that big specifications are government records and are not exempt from OPRA.  Nonetheless, because his request was not in writing, the Court ruled that his request did not satisfy the requirements of the OPRA statute and, therefore, he could not recover the attorney’s fees that would otherwise have been available to him.

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