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Paff v. New Jersey Dep't of Labor

April 24, 2007

JOHN T. PAFF, CLAIMANT-APPELLANT,
v.
NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, RESPONDENT-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from a Final Decision of the New Jersey Department of Labor, Government Records Council, 2003-128.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Parker, J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION

Argued January 24, 2007

Before Judges Wefing, Parker and Messano.*fn1

Claimant John T. Paff appeals from two final decisions of the Government Records Council (GRC) releasing documents requested from the Department of Labor (DOL) pursuant to the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1 to -13.

The chronology begins in October 1997 when the DOL obtained a judgment of debt against Gladys Garbin for $1,364.98 in State unemployment and disability taxes, $299.74 in interest and $100 in penalties. The total amount due was $1,764.72. Garbin paid $2,150.27 (including interest and collection fees) on January 26, 1999. On June 21, 2003, claimant made a request for all DOL records regarding the judgment against Garbin pursuant to OPRA. On June 25, 2003, DOL filed a warrant of satisfaction of the debt in Superior Court.

DOL initially denied claimant's request, except for redacted copies of the judgment and the warrant, which were publicly filed in Superior Court. The GRC dismissed the complaint on the ground that the records in question were confidential because they contained confidential wage and taX information. N.J.S.A. 43:21-11(g). That decision was appealed and, in a published opinion, we reversed after finding that the GRC misapplied N.J.S.A. 43:21-11(g). Paff v. N.J. Dep't. of Labor, 379 N.J. Super. 346 (App. Div. 2005). We remanded the matter for the GRC "to determine whether the records included in the file fall within the proper scope of the exemption provided in N.J.S.A. 43:21-11(g) or the DOL's regulations." Id. at 358.

After the remand, the GRC rendered a decision on October 18, 2005, stating that it had completed an in camera inspection of six unredacted documents submitted by the DOL for GRC review. The GRC concluded that a majority of the information in the documents was confidential pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-11(g) and N.J.A.C. 12:15-2.1 to -2.4. The GRC then ordered the department to release the six documents after redacting all information it found to be confidential.

After the DOL received the GRC's October 18, 2005 decision, the DOL noted that the GRC did not rule on a letter dated September 1, 1999 from Garbin to the Division of Unemployment Insurance, and a letter dated March 10, 1999 from the Passaic County Sheriff to the Division of Unemployment Insurance. The DOL requested that the GRC consider these documents and advise whether they should be released under OPRA. The GRC released the March 10, 1999 letter because it was a public document. The September 1, 1999 letter was released after confidential information was redacted. The GRC then asked the DOL to make a final inspection to determine whether there were any other documents pertaining to Garbin's account. An additional document dated August 17, 2000 addressed to Garbin was located. The GRC reviewed the August 17, 2000 letter and released it after redacting confidential information.

In this appeal, claimant argues:

POINT ONE

GRC ERRED BY AGAIN PERMITTING DOL TO WITHHOLD INFORMATION NOT "OBTAINED FROM EMPLOYERS AND EMPLOYEES"

A. DOL and GRC defied this court's ruling that N.J.S.A. 43:21-11(g) exempts from disclosure only information ...


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