July 19, 2010
JAMES R. SMITH, COMPLAINANT-APPELLANT,
GOVERNMENT RECORDS COUNCIL, RESPONDENT-RESPONDENT.
On appeal from a final decision of the Government Records Council.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted June 16, 2010
Before Judges Chambers and Kestin.
James R. Smith appeals from a final decision of the Government Records Council (Council) dismissing his "Denial of Access Complaint." We affirm.
In March 2009, Smith requested from the Department of Corrections (Department) "statistical data for the periods of October through November 2008 of inmates who were on the medically prescribed low fat/low sodium diet list at New Jersey State Prison." He asserts in his brief on appeal that he "was one of many individuals who were and continue to be affected by the Prisons' neglect of inmates['] health" and was seeking the data "to prepare a 'Class Action' Lawsuit against the Department of Corrections."
Within two weeks, in a letter, the Records Custodian of the Department responded:
... we have been advised that no records responsive to your request exist. In addition, the Health Services Unit has informed this office that all inmates are on a "Heart Healthy Diet" (low sodium / low fat). Therefore[,] your request for statistical data cannot be fulfilled and pursuant to OPRA is denied.
Shortly thereafter, Smith filed the "Denial Of Access Complaint" with the Council, invoking the Open Public Records Act, N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1 to -13. The Department declined to participate in the Council's standard mediation procedure on the basis that it had "no documents responsive to this request." In a supporting certification requested by the Council, the Department's Director of External Affairs stated that she had been advised by [the Department's] Health Services Unit that all inmates were on what is considered to be a heart healthy diet (i.e. low sodium/low fat). Therefore, since 100% of the inmate population receives a heart healthy diet, there is no longer a need to medically prescribe this diet or maintain statistics on same.
A footnote to the first sentence said: "As of January 1, 2008, the [D]department started providing heart healthy meals for the entire inmate population, rather than just those inmates who had a medical necessity for same." The certification went on to state that the Department had "responded to Mr. Smith and advised him [as set out in an attached copy of letter] that the documents he requested could not be provided as they were not made[,] maintained[,] or kept on file with the Department since all inmates are on a heart healthy diet." The Council's dismissal of the "Denial of Access Complaint" occurred within a month following its receipt of these papers.
In his argument on appeal, Smith contends that the statements from Department personnel are contradictory and require a reversal of the Council's decision. After detailed examination of the record, we are unable to discern the contradiction Smith asserts. In the face of a request for "statistical data for the periods of October through November 2008 of inmates who were on the medically prescribed low fat/low sodium diet list at New Jersey State Prison," the explanation given for an inability to provide the requested data is entirely logical. Since all inmates during the time period specified in the request were on low fat/low sodium diets, the statistics requested, isolating a particular category of inmate, were not kept for that period because no such special class of inmates existed at that time.
Therefore, we regard the issue raised on appeal as being without sufficient merit to warrant further discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(D), (E).
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