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Daniel Gatson v. Bergen County Prosecutor's Office


December 13, 2011


On appeal from a Final Decision of the Government Records Council, GRC Complaint No. 2009-240.

Per curiam.


Submitted November 1, 2011 -

Before Judges Yannotti, Espinosa and Kennedy.

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

Any and all records, memos, texts, e-mails, reports, transcripts, notes, letters, audio tapes, statements relating to Daniel Gatson . . . or to Bergen County Ind. No. 01-10-2672, 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 that appellant be permitted to inspect certain documents is not authorized by OPRA; (2) the request was overly broad; and (3) the requested records fall under the criminal investigative records exemption of OPRA. Appellant filed a denial of access complaint with the Government Records Council (GRC). On October 26, 2010, the GRC unanimously adopted its Director's finding 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 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.


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