On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Somerset County, Docket No. L-1798-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued telephonically January 31, 2011
Decided Before Judges Reisner and Sabatino.
This appeal concerns a newspaper's request that a municipality provide it with certain payroll records in a prescribed electronic format. The trial court preliminarily denied the newspaper's order to show cause seeking to compel the turnover of the records in the requested format. However, the trial court did not dismiss the newspaper's complaint in its entirety, leaving open the possibility that the newspaper could obtain a more favorable ultimate outcome in the litigation following additional discovery. Because the newspaper's appeal of the denial of the order to show cause is clearly interlocutory and because there are significant open issues that are best resolved definitively in the trial court after a plenary hearing, we dismiss the appeal without prejudice and remand for further proceedings.
The limited record before us describes the following pertinent chronology of events. Plaintiff, Gannett Satellite Information Network, Inc., is the publisher of the Courier News newspaper. In October 2009, counsel for the newspaper transmitted to defendant, the Borough of Raritan, a written request under the Open Public Records Act ("OPRA"), N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1 to -13, seeking the following materials:
Digital (non-PDF) computerized copy of the following:
1) Master payroll list of all employees paid in 2008 showing: Last name, first name, MI, department, section, hire date, job title date, job title, base pay at the end of 2008, total overtime pay for 2008, and total pay for 2008. The list should include all employees, even those who left in 2008 - anyone who received a W-2 statement.
2) All the above information but for the following time frame: Jan. 1, 2008 through June 1, 2008. This will show all the above fields but overtime and total pay would be restricted to the first six months of 2008.
3) Same as request #2, but for the time frame of Jan. 1, 2009 through June 1, 2009.
4) Please include any code sheets and field maps, if necessary.
The newspaper or its counsel apparently served similar OPRA requests for payroll records upon other municipalities around this same time frame.
Upon receiving the newspaper's request, the Borough's counsel responded that same day in a letter stating: "Your client was advised that the Borough did not maintain the records in the requested format, digital (non-PDF) computerized, and that the project would take a minimum of four hours at a cost of $275.00 per hour for a total of $1,100.00." The letter further indicated: "If you wish immediate access, you may visit Borough Hall to review the information in the format in which it is kept. If you wish the information to be in the format as requested, payment must be made."
The newspaper declined the Borough's invitation to review the payroll records in hard copy form at the municipal offices. It also declined to pay the Borough the quoted charge of $1,100 to convert the records from "PDF"*fn1 electronic form into a non-PDF form. The newspaper apparently preferred to have the records in non-PDF electronic form ...