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Trenton Times Corp. v. Board of Education

Decided: January 8, 1976.

TRENTON TIMES CORPORATION, A CORPORATION OF THE STATE OF DELAWARE, QUALIFIED TO DO BUSINESS IN THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF TRENTON, COUNTY OF MERCER, A NEW JERSEY MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, AND DR. SALVADOR R. FLORES, ETC., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



Matthews, Lora and Morgan.

Per Curiam

Plaintiff, publisher of newspapers sold in the Trenton area of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, filed a complaint in lieu of prerogative writs in which it sought an order, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1 et seq. (the Right to Know Law), directing defendant Board of Education of Trenton to permit plaintiff to inspect and copy a letter addressed to defendant Dr. Salvador R. Flores. Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment was granted and defendants appeal. The order has been stayed pending this appeal.

On October 3, 1972 defendant board of education and defendant Flores entered into a contract of employment wherein Flores was employed as superintendent of the public schools in the City of Trenton for a term expiring on June 30, 1975. At a public meeting held April 17, 1975 the board publicly announced that defendant Flores' contract would not be renewed and directed that notice of nonrenewal be given Flores prior to April 30, 1975, in accordance with N.J.S.A. 18A:27-10.

This notice of nonrenewal was sent under date of April 25, 1975 but included therein an unsolicited evaluation of

Dr. Flores' performance as superintendent which, according to the board, was provided in the interests of "elemental fairness." Because the statement was regarded as confidential, it was not placed in Flores' personnel file or "in any other file under the control, directly or indirectly, of the Board of Education of the City of Trenton." This court received a copy thereof during oral argument from the board's attorney.

On April 28, 1975 a representative of plaintiff made demand upon the secretary of defendant board for a copy of the letter and was advised that a copy was not available. Defendant Flores similarly refused to supply plaintiff with a copy of the letter.

In granting plaintiff's motion for summary judgment requiring defendant to permit plaintiff to inspect and copy the letter, the trial judge determined that the letter was a public document because it contained the notice of nonrenewal of employment required by N.J.S.A. 18A:27-10, and refused to excise the evaluative portion thereof before submission to plaintiff. With respect to defendant Flores' assertion of his right to privacy as a bar to disclosure of the contents of the letter, the trial judge took the view that the Legislature had not provided the court with the discretion to balance an individual's right to privacy with the public's right to know. Flores' request for suppression was accordingly denied.

N.J.S.A. 47:1A-2, commonly known as the Right to Know Law, defines public records as

Additional definitional material is found in N.J.S.A. 47:3-16 (The Destruction of Public Records Law), which must be read in pari materia with N.J.S.A. 47:1A-2. Citizens for Better Ed. v. Camden Bd. of Ed. , 124 N.J. Super. 523, 528

(App. Div. 1973). N.J.S.A. 47:3-16 provides, in pertinent part:

Plaintiff contends that the letter in question is a public record within the foregoing definitions because the notice of nonrenewal contained therein was required to be sent Flores by N.J.S.A. 18A:27-10, which requires defendant board to give to each nontenured teaching staff member a written offer of a contract for employment or a written notice that such employment will not be offered. Failure to give notice of termination, i.e. , notice that employment will not be offered, is deemed an offer of employment for the succeeding ...


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