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February 29, 2012

Re: Important decision regarding OPRA and mailing lists

Dear Mayor:

Last week the Appellate Division released its decision in Renna v. County of Union.  The issue in that case is whether a mailing list of senior citizens, compiled by Union County for the purposes of mailing out (physically, not electronically) a newsletter, was subject to the Open Public Records Act.  Union County had originally provided the list, but had redacted the mailing addresses.  The trial court ordered that Union County provide an unredacted list, and the Appellate Division upheld this decision.

Senior citizens in Union County could sign up to receive the newsletter at various events in the county.  Although home addresses are not among the list of items that should be redacted under OPRA, the records custodian for Union County did so anyway, relying on the exemption to protect privacy.

The Appellate Division found this argument unpersuasive, and held that, when balancing the privacy interests of those who signed up for the list against the purposes of OPRA, the facts weighed in favor of the release of an unredacted list, including the home addresses of those who had signed up to receive the newsletter.

In its decision, the Court mentioned three separate decisions by the Government Records Council that held that home addresses should not be released under OPRA, but stated that these decisions were not persuasive and offered no further analysis.

Finally, the Appellate Court urged public bodies going forward to attach a notice to any mailing list signups indicating that the list and the home addresses on it may be subject to the Open Public Records Act.

You can find a copy of the decision at: http://www.njslom.org/documents/renna-decision.pdf

We urge you to discuss the implications of this decision with your municipal attorney and records custodian.  If you have any questions or need further information, please contact League Staff Attorney Matthew Weng at mweng@njslom.com or at 609-695-3481 ext. 137.

Very truly yours,

William G. Dressel, Jr.

Executive Director

 

 

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