April 21, 2009
IRENA PAPRANIKU, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
CHERRY HILL TOWNSHIP, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Docket No. L-2871-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 16, 2008
Before Judges Parker and Yannotti.
Plaintiff Irena Papraniku appeals from an order entered on November 2, 2007 directing Cherry Hill Township (Township) to provide plaintiff with a list of Section 8 applicants in which "the names and street addresses are redacted," pursuant to the New Jersey Open Public Records Act (OPRA), N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1 to -13. The order further directed that "all other identifying information, including applicants' city of origin and qualifier classifications, along with the classification key, shall remain." We affirm.
The facts relevant to this appeal are as follows. On April 27, 2007, plaintiff made an OPRA request for the Section 8 documents. The Township denied that request, and on May 29, 2007, plaintiff filed her complaint. The court ordered defendant to produce the documents for in camera review to determine what information, if any, should be redacted.
This complaint arises out of plaintiff's application for Section 8 housing assistance. In April 2004, her application was approved and she was placed at No. 118 on the waiting list. In January 2005, she was No. 98. In January 2006, she was No. 77. In February 2007, she was No. 41. Two weeks later, however, plaintiff was notified that No. 41 was a mistake and she needed to complete a new preference form.
Plaintiff completed the new form on March 5, 2007 and sent it to the Township with a request that it not change her position on the list. Shortly thereafter, she was advised that she was No. 86. Plaintiff made a number of attempts to contact the Housing Authority but did not receive a response. Consequently, on April 27, 2007, she made her OPRA request.
The Township has not explained why plaintiff's position on the list moved from 41 to 86, or why she was notified that she was No. 41 on the list, if that was incorrect. Nor has it explained how she went from 77 in January 2006 to 86 in March 2007.
In this appeal, plaintiff argues that it was reversible error for the trial court (1) to deny her motion for indigency; (2) to redact information from the Section 8 documents; and (3) to deny her application for attorney's fees.
After Judge Francis Orlando reviewed the documents in camera, he found that privacy interests were not implicated as long as the Section 8 applicants' personal information was not disclosed. We are satisfied that Judge Orlando properly made the distinction between information subject to disclosure under OPRA and that which should remain confidential. His decision is a measured one that responds to plaintiff's request without disclosing private information. We affirm substantially for the reasons stated by Judge Orlando on the record of November 2, 2007. Nevertheless, we add the following.
Motions for indigency are entirely within the discretion of the court. R. 1:13-2(a). Absent a showing of abuse of discretion, we are constrained to affirm. Here, plaintiff has not shown that the trial court abused its discretion.
With respect to plaintiff's application for attorney's fees, we note that although OPRA authorizes fees to the "prevailing party," in Teeters v. Div. of Youth & Family Services, 387 N.J. Super. 423, 432-33 (App. Div. 2006), certif. denied, 189 N.J. 426 (2007), "we articulated a test for whether a party requesting fees under OPRA qualifies as a 'prevailing party.' The inquiry is whether the proceeding initiated by the plaintiff modified the public agency's behavior in a way that directly benefited the plaintiff." Burnett v. County of Bergen, 402 N.J. Super. 319, 346 (App. Div.), certif. granted, 196 N.J. 593 (2008). We are satisfied that the trial court properly denied plaintiff's application for attorney's fees under the circumstances of this case where, although the documents were released to plaintiff, they were substantially redacted to protect the personal information of Section 8 applicants.
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