Police Department Not Required to Produce Records Pursuant to an Open Public Records Act Request
In Simmons v. Mercado, Docket No. A-3460-18T1, the New Jersey Appellate Division held that the City of Millville and the Millville Police Department were not required to provide documents pursuant to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request.
Specifically, the plaintiffs sought copies of “DWI/DUI complaints and summonses,” “drug possession complaints and summonses,” and “drug paraphernalia complaints and summons.” The trial court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and awarded them counsel fees and also ordered Millville to produce the records. However, the Appellate Division reversed and found that, although the police officers inputted the information, the forms were maintained by the judiciary and that Millville’s responses to the OPRA request—that the documents can be requested through the New Jersey judiciary website—was proper.
The Appellate Division went through the process of how the documents would be generated. If creating a request for these documents, a police officer must utilize the judiciary’s computerized case management system. While the police officer completes the initial parts of the form, a judicial officer retains the final authority as to whether the system will produce the completed form. As a result, the requested documents were not government records maintained by Millville but, rather, were documents maintained by the judiciary. Moreover, the Appellate Division held that while it may be true that the Police Department has access to the electronic forms, it did not alter the fact that the records were maintained by the judiciary. The Appellate Division concluded its decision by stating that the Appellate Division noted that the burden should not be placed on local authorities to search for records maintained by others.
This ruling emphasizes the importance of consulting with an attorney regarding OPRA requests and the continually changing legal developments in this area of law.
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