Access to Public Records in New Jersey

Note: This page covers information specific to New Jersey. For general information concerning access to government records see the Access to Government Records section of this guide.

You must be a citizen of New Jersey in order to inspect the state's public records using New Jersey's Open Public Records Act (OPRA). See Section 47:1A-1 of New Jersey Statutes Annotated ("N.J. Stat. Ann."). There is an exception to this for convicts who are trying to access the personal information of a victim or family of a victim of their offense. See N.J. Stat. Ann. § 47:1A-2.2

What Records Are Covered in New Jersey

What Government Bodies Are Covered

You can inspect the public records of any New Jersey agency which includes: any of the principal departments in the executive branch of state government, and any principal department's division, board, bureau, office, commission; the legislature and any office, board, bureau, or commission within or created by the legislative branch; and any independent state authority, commission, instrumentality, or agency. However, the OPRA does not apply to the New Jersey courts. See N.J. Stat. Ann. § 47:1A-1.1. Refer to Access to Government Meetings in New Jersey and New Jersey State Court Records for more information on attending open meetings at the state legislature and accessing records from the state courts.

What Types of Records Can Be Requested

You can inspect all "public records" of the government bodies subject to the New Jersey OPRA. The term "public record" refers to all government records that have "been made, maintained or kept on file in the course of . . . official business by any officer, commission, agency, or authority of the state." N.J. Stat. Ann. § 47:1A-1.1.

Exemptions

A custodian of records (the government officer who controls or has access to public records for a public body) may refuse disclosure of the requested records if one or more of the following statutory exemptions applies:

  • inter- or intra-agency material that is advisory, consultative, or deliberative in nature
  • communications between a member of the legislature and constituents
  • memoranda and other communications used by a member of the legislature in the course of her duties
  • medical examiner records concerning the body of a deceased person, unless they are used for law enforcement or research purposes, or if there is good cause for disclosure
  • criminal investigatory records
  • crime victim's records
  • trade secrets, commercial or financial information
  • information subject to attorney-client privilege
  • technical or administrative information that may jeopardize computer security
  • building and infrastructure plans and emergency procedures whose disclosure might create a security risk
  • information which, if disclosed, would give an advantage to competitors or bidders
  • information about sexual harassment complaints or grievances
  • information about collective negotiations
  • information between a public body and its insurer
  • information kept confidential under court order
  • honorable discharge certificates (disclosure is permitted to the veteran's spouse)
  • personal information including social security, drivers license, credit card, and unlisted phone numbers
  • college and university records covering: incomplete pharmaceutical research; test questions, answers, and scoring keys; identity of anonymous donors; rare books that have limited public access; admission applications; student records (academic and disciplinary)
  • records exempted under another statute
  • files maintained by the public defender in a case that is considered to be confidential
  • personnel and pension records for a government employee

For more information about the exemptions as they appear in the statute, refer to the New Jersey Open Public Records Act. Additionally, you should also consult the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press's Open Government Guide: New Jersey, and the New Jersey Government Records Council's helpful summary Citizen's Guide to OPRA to better understand the exemptions for the Michigan FOIA.

How to Request Records in New Jersey

You must make a written request and convey it to the public body's custodian of records. You can hand-deliver, mail, fax, or in some cases even email your request to the appropriate custodian (check with the public body to see whether they are capable of receiving email requests). Call the public agency and ask for a records request form use to request records under OPRA. Or, use the Student Press Law Center's unique letter generator that can help you create your request.

The custodian must reply to your request within seven business days. If you want a copy of the records, you may need to pay a fee. In general, the fee is limited to $0.75 per page for the first to tenth page, $0.50 per page for the eleventh page to twentieth page, and $0.25 per page for the twentieth page and on. Note that there may be special service charges in the case of exceptionally difficult requests. See N.J. Stat. Ann. § 47:1A-5 (particularly the sections titled "Time period for responses by custodian," "Fees for copies," and "Special service charges") and the Citizen's Guide to OPRA. Note that the law only applies to existing documents. The law does not require a custodian to create a record in response to your request.

What Are Your Remedies in New Jersey

You have several options open to you should the custodian of records deny your request. First, try to work with the custodian. If the public body is relying on an exemption, ask the custodian to release the nonexempt portions of the record with the exempt portions removed or redacted.

If the custodian still does not apply and you want further review of your request, your three options are to:

  1. Ask the Government Records Council for an informal mediation, which can be done upon written request. See N.J. Stat. Ann. § 47:1A-7 (scroll down to the section titled "Use of mediation").
  2. File a formal action with the Government Records Council. See N.J. Stat. Ann. § 47:1A-6.
  3. File a lawsuit with the New Jersey Superior Court, which requires a $200 filing fee and following court procedure. Id.

According to the State of New Jersey Government Records Council's Citizen's Guide to OPRA, you may want to contact the Council for advice before filing a lawsuit or formal action. The Council's staff can try to mediate your dispute and bring about a successful resolution. However should the mediation fail, or should you should one of the other two options, you should refer to our section on Finding Legal Help for more information on how to get legal assistance to help you assess the merits of a potential action against the government entity.

 

Last updated on April 23rd, 2008

   
 
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