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Bart v. Passaic County Public Housing Agency

April 9, 2009

JOHN A. BART, ESQ., COMPLAINANT-APPELLANT,
v.
PASSAIC COUNTY PUBLIC HOUSING AGENCY, RESPONDENT-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from a Final Decision of the Government Records Council, Complaint No. 2007-215.

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

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION

Submitted March 17, 2009

Before Judges Wefing, Yannotti and LeWinn.

John A. Bart (Bart) appeals from a final determination of the New Jersey Government Records Council (GRC), which found that Bart had not been unlawfully denied access to government records in violation of the Open Public Records Act (OPRA or the Act), N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1 to -13, and that the custodian of records did not knowingly and willfully violate OPRA in responding to the request. We affirm.

This appeal arises from the following facts. On August 6, 2007, Bart submitted to the Passaic County Public Housing Agency (Agency) a request for government records, which sought the following:

[1] [t]he Passaic County [Public] Housing Agency sign(s) currently posted in conformance with N.J.S.A. 47:1A-5(j); [and]

[2] [a]ll Passaic County [Public] Housing Agency signs that have been posted in conformance with N.J.S.A. 47:1A-5(j) since July 7, 2002.

The secretary for the Agency's custodian of records responded in a letter dated August 15, 2007. The letter included copies of a "Fair Housing Booklet -- It's Your Right"; a two-page document, in English and Spanish, regarding applications for housing assistance under programs administered by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); a notice in Spanish regarding unlawful discrimination; and a poster about fraud and waste in HUD-funded programs or operations.

On August 20, 2007, Bart wrote to the Agency and stated that its reply was not responsive to his request. Bart stated that "none of the signs relate to N.J.S.A. 47:1A-5(j)." He asked the Agency to "[p]lease respond to [his] request." Apparently, the Agency did not respond to Bart's August 20, 2007 letter.

On September 21, 2007, Bart filed a denial of access complaint with the GRC. In his complaint, Bart indicated that his request for records had been "denied" on August 15, 2007. The GRC forwarded Bart's complaint to the Agency, which filed a response dated November 9, 2007. On November 14, 2007, the Public Information Officer for the County of Passaic sent Bart a letter, along with copies of certain signs posted by the Agency in conformance with N.J.S.A. 47:1A-5(j).

In May 2008, the Executive Director of the GRC issued her findings and recommendations regarding Bart's denial of access complaint. The Executive Director found that Bart's request for records was deficient because he failed to identify with specificity the documents he was seeking. The Executive Director found that the request lacked specificity because it required the custodian to engage in research to determine precisely what records had been requested.

The Executive Director further found that the custodian's initial response to Bart's request was not responsive, but the custodian did not unlawfully deny Bart access to government records because his request failed to specifically identify the records he was seeking and therefore was not valid. The Executive Director also determined that the custodian's delay in responding to the request did not rise to the level of a ...


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