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D.F v. Collingswood Board of Education

November 19, 2012

D.F., A MINOR, INDIVIDUALLY AND BY HIS PARENT AND LEGAL GUARDIAN, A.C., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
COLLINGSWOOD BOARD OF EDUCATION, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Docket No. L-3813-10.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted November 2, 2011

Before Judges Graves and J. N. Harris.

Plaintiff A.C.*fn1 appeals from a November 12, 2010 Law Division order denying her application for "more narrowly redacted versions" of records she received from defendant Collingswood Board of Education (the Board) pursuant to the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1 to -13. The court specified that plaintiff's application was denied "without prejudice." For the reasons that follow, the appeal is dismissed.

Plaintiff's son, D.F., was previously enrolled in the Collingswood Public School System. In January 2009, plaintiff filed a due process petition alleging the Board violated her son's rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C.A. §§ 1400 to 1482. After plaintiff's due process petition was dismissed by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), plaintiff filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. According to the Board, that matter was the subject of an appeal filed by plaintiff in the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.*fn2

On June 13, 2010, while plaintiff's due process petition was pending before the ALJ, plaintiff's attorney submitted an OPRA request to the Board for access to the following documents:

All records, including, but not limited to, bills, vouchers, contracts, etc., whether in electronic or paper media, whether received or sent, which makes reference to attorney's fees from 11/11/09 to present which make reference to my client [D.F.] and/or his mother [A.C.].

I also request a copy of the Board's current contract with the Board's attorney and/or law firm.

Scott Oswald, Ed.D, Collingswood's Superintendent of Schools, responded in a letter dated June 16, 2010. Oswald stated the Board was providing copies of the billing statements submitted by the Board's attorney with certain information redacted:

Please be advised that certain information on the attorney bills has been redacted as it is exempt from disclosure because it falls within the attorney client privilege. Further, litigation in which you are involved is ongoing in the matters to which the attorney bills relate. The redacted information is blacked out on the bills.

Thereafter, on June 25, 2010, a Board employee e-mailed plaintiff's attorney fifty-one pages of documents.

The first two pages of the documents consisted of a contract between the Board and its attorney for legal services from July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2010. The remaining pages were invoices for legal services rendered by the Board's attorney. However, for the most part, the names of the people the attorney spoke to or corresponded with were redacted from the invoices.

On July 26, 2010, plaintiff filed a verified complaint and order to show cause (OTSC) to compel the Board to disclose the names of the people who communicated with its attorney. Plaintiff specified, however, that she was not challenging "the redactions to the extent that they excise the motive of the client in seeking representation, litigation strategy, the specific nature of the services provided, such as researching particular areas of law, or other matters that are legitimately privileged or exempt from access." In the second count of the complaint, plaintiff ...


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