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Daniel Gatson v. Somerset County Prosecutor's Office


December 13, 2011


On appeal from the Government Records Council, GRC Complaint No. 2009-238.

Per curiam.


Submitted November 1, 2011

Before Judges Yannotti, Espinosa and Kennedy.

Appellant Daniel Gatson, an inmate at the Northern State Prison, served an Open Public Records Act (OPRA), N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1 to -13, request on the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office (the Prosecutor's Office) on June 24, 2009. Appellant sought the following items:

Any and all records, memos, texts, e-mails, reports, transcripts, notes, letters, audio tapes, statements related to Daniel Gatson . . . or to Bergen County Ind. No. 01-11-2674, 04-04-934-I, and Somerset County Docket No.(s) Som-L-1733-05, and Mer-L-003181-07.

The Prosecutor's Office denied appellant's request for the following reasons: (1) the request is overly broad and of the nature of a blanket request for a class of various documents;

(2) the request seeks production of criminal and investigatory records which are exempt from disclosure under OPRA pursuant to N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1.1; (3) the request may seek a production of hand-written notes which are not considered government records under OPRA; (4) the request seeks the production of documents protected from disclosure pursuant to the deliberative process privilege under N.J.S.A. 47:1A-9(b); and (5) the request includes criminal history record information that the Custodian is prohibited from allowing other people to access under N.J.A.C. 13:59-1.6(c), which is applicable to OPRA pursuant to N.J.S.A. 47:1A-9(a).

Appellant thereafter filed a denial of access complaint with the Government Records Council (GRC). On October 26, 2010, the GRC unanimously adopted its Director's findings and recommendations and found that:

1. Because the Complainant's request for records, memos, texts, e-mails and reports fails to specify identifiable government records and would require the Custodian to conduct research among all of the records maintained by the agency to locate and identify responsive records, the Complainant's request is invalid under OPRA. See MAG Entertainment, LLC v.Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, 375 N.J. Super. 534 (App. Div. 2005) and Bent v. Stafford Police Department, 381 N.J. Super. 30 (App. Div. 2005); New Jersey Builders Association v. New Jersey Council on Affordable Housing, 390 N.J.Super. 166, 180 (App. Div. 2007);

Schuler v. Borough of Bloomsbury, GRC Complaint No. 2007-151 (February 2009).

2. The Complainant's request to be taken from his current state of incarceration in a secured state prison to the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office to view and inspect the requested records is not a request that can be granted through OPRA. N.J.S.A. 47:1A-6; N.J.S.A. 47:1A-7.a. through .e.

Appellant challenges this decision, arguing that the information he requested "falls under N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1.1 . . . [and the] information may also provide valuable public information regarding the conduct of governmental officials." He adds that the GRC "took a too narrow view of its adjudicatory responsibilities" and failed to conduct "any meaningful investigation." We disagree and affirm substantially for the reasons the GRC expressed in its November 1, 2010, written decision.

Our standard of review is very limited. We will not upset the ultimate determination of an agency, such as the GRC, unless the determination was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable or violated legislative policies expressed or implied in the Act governing the agency. Campbell v. Dep't. of Civil Serv., 39 N.J. 556, 562 (1963). We note that OPRA does not countenance "[w]holesale requests for general information," MAG Entertainment, LLC v. Div. of Alcoholic Beverage Control, 375 N.J. Super. 534, 549 (App. Div. 2005), or open-ended demands for every document a public agency has on file. Bent v. Twp. of Stafford Twp. Police Dep't., 381 N.J. Super. 30, 37 (App. Div. 2005). Rather, "OPRA requires a party requesting access to a public record to specifically describe the documents sought," Gannett N.J. Partners, L.P. v. County of Middlesex, 379 N.J. Super. 205, 212 (App. Div. 2005), so that the records may be readily and easily identified in the short timeframe within which government custodians must respond. Bent, supra, 381 N.J. Super. at 36-37.

Here, after a careful review of the items comprising the record on appeal, we conclude that the determination made by the GRC is "supported by sufficient credible evidence on the record as a whole." R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(D). More importantly, the determination is not arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable and is in accord with the mandates of OPRA.



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