Wm. J. Brennan, Jr., J.s.c. (Orally from the bench.)
This is a motion for summary judgment to compel the defendant, under the authority of Rule 3:81-4, to supply a list of registrants whose registrations were filed with the defendant after March 10, 1949, and up to March 31, 1949.
The complaint is brought by the plaintiff as a citizen, taxpayer, and voter of the City of Jersey City, and it is conceded that he is a citizen, taxpayer, and voter of such city.
It is also brought in his capacity as a member of the Board of Commissioners of the City of Jersey City and Director of the Department of Public Safety of that city, and as a candidate for election to the Board of Commissioners of the City
of Jersey City at the municipal election to be held in said city on May 10, 1949.
The relief prayed is a summary judgment ordering and directing the defendant, Superintendent of Elections and Commissioner of Registration of the County of Hudson, to furnish to the plaintiff and his authorized representatives forthwith a list of the names and addresses of the registrants before mentioned or, in the alternative, to permit the plaintiff and his authorized representatives to inspect and copy the duplicate registration forms of such registrations for permanent registration. The registration forms in question are public records. See Revised Statutes 19:31-10.
The question at the outset to be determined is the right of this plaintiff in one or more of his several capacities to demand of the defendant a list made up from such public records of the lists of the names of the registrants or, in the alternative, to examine and inspect such public records.
The common law right of an interested citizen to an inspection of public records has been the subject of discussion by our courts in a number of cases, and the most recent is a case decided March 16, 1949, by Part A of the Appellate Division of the Superior Court, entitled Taxpayers Association of Cape May, New Jersey, Inc., et al., Plaintiffs, v. City of Cape May et al., defendants , 64 A. 2 d 453. In the opinion handed down in that case Judge Jacobs, writing the opinion, collected the cases which discuss this question in our state. The leading case is Ferry v. Williams , 41 N.J.L. 332, where the court, after reviewing the English authorities and disavowing suggested limitations, sustained the right of a taxpayer to an inspection of applications for liquor licenses for the purpose of ascertaining whether they had been granted in accordance with law. The application for inspection in that instance was resisted on the ground that the applicant was an advocate of national prohibition and that the purpose to which he would put the information was not legitimate. The court, allowing the inspection, expressly stated that the interest of the applicant as a taxpayer was sufficient even though he had no interest except that common interest which every citizen has in the enforcement of the
laws and ordinances of the community wherein he dwells. The court went on to say at page 339, that:
"The present controversy relates to a matter of public policy of universally recognized importance, concerning a traffic which, in the opinion of many, largely adds to the disorders of society and the burdens of taxation; and it cannot be alleged that private interests are not as much involved in its due regulation by law as they are in other public questions about which heretofore individuals have maintained a standing in this court. Hence, I think the relator, in his capacity of inhabitant and taxpayer in the city of Orange, has such an interest in the proper observance of the provisions of the city charter for licensing saloons, that he may, under certain circumstances, litigate for its protection, and, in order to ascertain whether those circumstances exist, being actuated by such motives as are disclosed in the present application, he is entitled to an inspection of the letters of recommendation, filed with the collector of taxes, upon which pending licenses were granted."
This case was followed by Higgins v. Lockwood , reported in 74 N.J.L. 158. That was an application for a writ of mandamus by one Higgins to compel the clerk of the Hudson County Board of Elections to permit him to examine the registry records of the ...