ashman Stein Walder Hayden (PSWH) partner CJ Griffin has successfully defeated an appeal by the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NJSPCA) in an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) case. In a decision issued on January 26, 2018, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, denied NJSPCA’s appeal, which had sought a reversal of the trial court’s decision that it was required to pay more than $42,000 for legal fees because the requestor had prevailed in her suit to prove that NJSPCA had violated OPRA.
The OPRA request at the center of the case was filed by PSWH client Collene Wronko in 2014. She sought records relating to NJSPCA’s finances and operations, after being concerned that NJSPCA was a law enforcement agency that had been operating in complete secrecy. After NJSPCA ignored her requests, Wronko filed a lawsuit and asked the court to rule that NJSPCA was a “public agency” subject to OPRA, despite its nonprofit status.
The Appellate Division affirmed the Middlesex County trial court’s decision that NJSPCA was a public agency subject to OPRA. As for NJSPCA’s argument that it should not be required to pay the Wronko’s legal fees because it is a nonprofit organization, the Court noted that not only did NJSPCA initially ignore the OPRA request altogether, but that it repeatedly failed to comply with the lower court’s orders, which required additional briefing and court appearances and significantly drove up the cost of the legal fees.
The full January 26, 2018 decision can be viewed here.
CJ Griffin argued the cause for Collene Wronko.
Alexi M. Velez argued the cause for amicus curiae American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.
Harry Jay Levin argued the cause for New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.