On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Passaic County.
Petrella, Gaynor and Scalera. The opinion of the court was delivered by Scalera, J.A.D.
The issue here is the extent to which persons engaged in the business of searching public records for profit may gain access to such information pursuant to our Right to Know Law, N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1, et seq. We affirm the trial judge's grant of Techniscan's motion and hold that its rights are equal to those of any other citizen.
The Passaic Valley Water Commission (PVWC) is a public entity engaged in the business of purveying potable water. As part of its function, PVWC maintains records of accounts receivable. All unpaid water charges payable to PVWC become a lien on the real estate serviced by it. See N.J.S.A. 40:62-141. It has been PVWC's practice to furnish certified water lien search information upon request, for a fee of approximately ten dollars.
Techniscan Corporation is engaged in the business of searching certain public records on behalf of various title insurance companies. It seeks access to the records kept by PVWC in order to conduct essentially the same type of water lien search for approximately the same fee.
PVWC refused to permit Techniscan to conduct such searches of its records for the reasons that,
(1) Such activities are solely for Techniscan's "own business purposes and economic benefit" and accordingly, there is no legal requirement that such access be granted.
(2) Such activities "would be patently and irreparably disruptive to the operation" of PVWC.
(3) Such activities "would be an improper delegation of a governmental function" and "not in the public interest as required by" the Right to Know Law.
Techniscan filed suit to compel access to PVWC's records and then filed a motion for summary judgment based solely on the rights accorded to it by the Right to Know Law. Hence, its common law access rights are not implicated here.
The Right to Know Law, N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1, et seq., enacted in 1963, declares the public policy of this State to be that public records "shall be readily accessible by the citizens of this State"
as a means of protecting the public interest. It provides specifically that, with certain exceptions, every citizen shall have the right to inspect and purchase copies of such records pursuant to an established fee schedule. N.J.S.A. 47:1A-2. No issue of confidentiality or other ...