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January 30, 2008

Appellate Division Affirms That Specificity Required for Proper OPRA Request




Dear Mayor:

In Elizabeth Mason v. Hoboken (Docket No. A-0508-06T5), an unpublished decision handed down yesterday, the Appellate Division affirmed a trial court holding that Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests made to the City of Hoboken by plaintiff were not specific enough to qualify as proper requests under the statute, and therefore the city clerk’s failure to respond within the seven days allowed by the law was inconsequential in light of all the circumstances.   Plaintiff’s requests asking for “all correspondence” relating to certain city projects were overly broad, in the court’s view.

In fact, the court noted, “it is likely here that the Hoboken City Clerk would have to search through all of the municipal records to locate responsive documents to this request…OPRA is not intended to be used as a fishing expedition or as a research tool to compile unknown documents.” A person who request records under OPRA, rather, must know which records he or she wants and ask for those specific documents.

The Court noted that the better practice would be to respond within seven days even if the request itself is improper, as it was in this case. However, the Appellate Division agreed with the lower court that an untimely OPRA response cannot be a violation of the law where the OPRA request itself is invalid.

The case can be accessed at:

If you have any questions or concerns about this communication, please contact Deborah M. Kole, Staff Attorney, at the League, ex. 137, or at


                                                                        Very truly yours,


                                                                        William G. Dressel, Jr.
                                                                        Executive Director





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