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August 16, 2012

Re:      Trial Court Decision in Gannett v. Raritan

Dear Mayor:

Yesterday, August 15, 2012, Judge Ciccone released her opinion in the Gannett v. Raritan matter.

On July 17, 2009, a Gannett newspaper made an OPRA request to Raritan Borough requesting payroll records in a digital, non-PDF format.  The clerk received this request and forwarded it to ADS, the outside service that handles payroll for Raritan.  ADS informed the clerk that they do not maintain payroll records in non-PDF format, and to convert these records from PDF to non-PDF would take approximately 4 hours at a cost of $275 per hour, for a total cost of $1100.  Raritan informed Gannett of this special service charge, and instead of paying it, Gannett filed suit.

After being dismissed and then appealed, the Appellate Division remanded the case back to Judge Ciccone.

At the trial court, Gannett argued that during the payroll process, ADS created and maintained certain computer files.  These computer files were unintelligible, but were still digital non-PDF files and still contained the information (albeit unreadable by a human) sought by Gannett.  Gannett argued that Raritan should have provided these files to satisfy the OPRA request, and by not providing them, Raritan improperly denied their request.

Judge Ciccone agreed.  In her opinion, she stated that a record need not be intelligible to be a public record, and that these files should have been provided to Gannett.

It is important to note that the original special service charge was not an issue at the trial level and Judge Ciccone offered no opinion on it.

This is an issue of high importance to municipalities, and we worked closely with Raritan throughout this case.  Should Raritan choose to appeal we will continue to support their position.

We urge you to discuss this issue with your municipal attorney.  We will keep you updated on any further developments.

For further information contact Staff Attorney, Matthew Weng 609-695-3481 ext. 137 or mweng@njslom.com

Very truly yours,

William G. Dressel, Jr.
Executive Director

 

 

 

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