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Paff v. Community Education Centers, Inc.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

November 21, 2013

JOHN PAFF, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
COMMUNITY EDUCATION CENTERS, INC., Defendant-Respondent

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued October 28, 2013

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. L-1658-12.

Richard Gutman argued the cause for appellant.

Jennifer Borek argued the cause for respondent (Genova Burns Giantomasi Webster, L.L.C., attorneys; Ms. Borek, of counsel; Ms. Borek and Matthew Kertz, on the brief).

Before Judges Yannotti and Leone.

PER CURIAM

Plaintiff John Paff appeals from an order entered by the Law Division on October 12, 2012, dismissing his complaint aganst defendant, Community Education Centers, Inc. (CEC). For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

Education and Health Centers of America, Inc. (EHCA) is a non-profit entity, which has been in business since 1978. Among other things, EHCA contracts with state and local governments to provide substance abuse treatment and education services to inmates preparing for release from incarceration. CEC is a privately held for-profit entity that provides treatment and education services aimed at changing addictive and criminal behaviors. In 1996, CEC entered into an agreement with EHCA to provide services and staff for EHCA's contracts in New Jersey.

In December 2011, Essex County awarded EHCA a contract to provide services at Delaney Hall in Newark for a five-year period, commencing on January 1, 2012.[1] According to the agreement, the facility would house approximately 1000 persons who would otherwise be incarcerated at Essex County's correctional facilities, as well as persons detained by federal immigration officials. CEC provides services at Delaney Hall, pursuant to its contract with EHCA.

On January 19, 2012, plaintiff submitted a request to EHCA and CEC seeking access to certain records pursuant to the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1 to -13, and the common law. Plaintiff asserted that EHCA and CEC are "public agencies" under OPRA and are therefore subject to its requirements.

In his request, plaintiff sought access to resolutions or other writings by which EHCA and CEC designated a custodian of government records pursuant to OPRA, as well as the document request forms that EHCA and CEC have adopted. In addition, plaintiff sought access to attorney-billing records related to a lawsuit brought by the estate of a person who died while incarcerated at Delaney Hall, and personnel records for three individuals who worked at the facility.

CEC denied plaintiff's requests. CEC informed plaintiff that it was not a "public entity" under OPRA and not subject to OPRA's requirements.

On March 2, 2012, plaintiff filed a verified complaint against CEC in the Law Division, claiming that CEC is a "public agency" under OPRA.[2] Plaintiff sought an order requiring CEC to appoint a custodian of records, adopt an OPRA document-request form, and grant access ...


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