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Daniel Gatson v. Borough of Cliffside Park Police Department

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


December 13, 2011

DANIEL GATSON, APPELLANT,
v.
BOROUGH OF CLIFFSIDE PARK POLICE DEPARTMENT, RESPONDENT.

On appeal from the Government Records Council, GRC Complaint No. 2009-239.

Per curiam.

Submitted November 1, 2011

Before Judges Yannotti, Espinosa and Kennedy.

Appellant Daniel Gatson, incarcerated in Northern State Prison, served an Open Public Records Act (OPRA), N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1 to -13, request on the Borough of Cliffside Park Police Department on July 17, 2009. Appellant requested the following items:

[A]ny and all statements, reports, e-mails, faxes and text's [sic] and photographs that pertain to the requestor Daniel Gatson and the judicially issued search warrant that was issued on July 13, 2001, for the requestor's residence . . . .

Counsel for the Borough of Cliffside Park denied appellant's request for the following reasons: (1) criminal investigatory records are exempt from public record disclosure requirements; (2) the municipality is not obliged to conduct research among its records and correlate data from various governmental records in its possession; and (3) the request constitutes a general request for data.

Appellant 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, in relevant part, that:

2. Because request item No. 1 of the complainant's request would require the Custodian to conduct research to locate records containing the requested subject matter, this request item is overly broad and is therefore invalid under OPRA. MAG Entertainment, LLC v. Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, 375 N.J. Super. 534, 546 (App. Div. 2005); Bent v. Twp. of Stafford Police Dep't., 381 N.J. Super. 30, 37 (App. Div. 2005); New Jersey Buildings 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).

3. The records requested pursuant to request item No. 2 of the Complainant's OPRA request are exempt from disclosure because they fall within the definition of criminal investigatory records at N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1.1; [s]ee also Nance v. Scotch Plains Township Police Department, GRC Complaint No. 2003-125 (January 2005).

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 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.

Affirmed.

20111213

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