On appeal from the Government Records Council, Complaint No. 2007-118.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Axelrad, Sapp-Peterson and Ostrer.
Steven L. Hyman appeals from the final administrative agency decision rendered by respondent Government Records Council ("GRC") upholding respondent Jersey City's ("City") denial to him of access to certain government records. The City claimed that Hyman's request as to some records was overbroad and it withheld other records on the basis of attorney-client privilege or the advisory, consultative, or deliberative ("ACD") exception to disclosure of government records under the Open Public Records Act ("OPRA"), N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1 to -13. We reverse the denial of access to Item Nos. 2 through 15 and remand to the GRC for further proceedings related to the custodian's assertion of attorney-client privilege and the ACD exception.
Hyman is the general manager of eight limited liability companies, each of which individually owns eight properties (the "properties") in the City containing portions of the former Pennsylvania Railroad Stem Embankment ("Embankment"). The properties were acquired in 2005. Since that time, Hyman has been enmeshed in disputes and litigation concerning efforts to develop the properties, in both federal and state courts as well as before the Surface Transportation Board ("STB"). The City, which had earlier pursued purchasing the lots, abandoned that effort and subsequently joined with a citizens' group called the Pennsylvania Railroad Harsimus Stem Embankment Preservation Coalition (the "Coalition") to block Hyman's development efforts. The Coalition, formed around 1998, lobbied the City to halt any development of the Embankment and preserve it as a landmark. Maureen Crowley, a Jersey City resident, is the coordinator of the Coalition.
In January 2006, the City and the Coalition filed a joint petition with the STB seeking a declaration that the Embankment is a line of rail. While the STB matter was pending, Hyman submitted a request to the City's custodian of records seeking records related to the eight Embankment properties. The City agreed to release nearly 4000 pages of records but withheld 297 pages, claiming the request was overbroad and also citing attorney-client privilege or the ACD exception to disclosure. With respect to the privilege log, documents were designated as subject to attorney-client privilege or the ACD exception.
On May 11, 2007, Hyman filed a Denial of Access Complaint with the GRC. He submitted sixteen categories of records for which access had been denied:
1. All records identified in attached Privilege Log No. 2.
2. The McGuire Associates appraisal report for Block 247, Lot 50A.
3. The McGuire Associates appraisal report for Block 212, Lot M.
4. Council resolution(s) authorizing John Curley's legal services in the amount of $56,901.78.
5. All resolutions, contracts, and invoices for legal services performed by John Curley from June 2006 to the date of the request.
6. Invoices for Charles Montange legal services based on two resolutions authorizing a total of $40,000 in payments for services rendered by Charles Montange.
7. Council resolution authorizing McGuire Associates real estate appraisal services not to exceed $25,000.
8. Council resolution authorizing Value Research Group real estate appraisal services.
9. Council resolution authorizing Verne V. Watley professional services.
10. Council resolution authorizing Burns & Fiorina, Inc.[,] demolition services.
11. All resolutions, contracts and invoices pertaining to the railroad title search.
12. All resolutions, contracts and invoices pertaining to the services performed by Dresden Robin ...