GRC Rules that Agencies Must Accept Electronic Requests
While overwhelmingly most agencies accept emailed or faxed requests or have an online portal to submit OPRA requests, there are a handful of agencies that do not. The Government Records Council (GRC) recently ruled that the refusal to accept at least one form of electronically submitted requests violates OPRA.
On September 29, 2015, the GRC ruled in Russo v. City of East Orange (Essex), GRC Complaint No. 2014-430, that “the City’s policy of banning submission of OPRA requests electronically represents an unreasonable obstacle on access.” In its decision, the GRC recounted East Orange’s history regarding the issue of request submission policies. In 2009, Paff v. City of E. Orange, 407 N.J. Super. 221, 228 (App. Div. 2009), the Appellate Division ruled that East Orange was not compelled by the statute to accept faxed OPRA requests since it did not have a designated fax line. However, it also held that an agency cannot “impose an unreasonable obstacle to the transmission of a request for a governmental record,” such as only accepting hand-delivered requests. Since at that time East Orange also accepted “electronically submitted” OPRA requests, the Appellate Division held that the refusal to accept faxed requests was not unreasonable.
Now, however, East Orange only accepts hand-delivered or mailed OPRA requests. The GRC noted that not only did East Orange fail to notify requestors that it did not accept emailed OPRA requests. It also held that “[a]llowing for at least one form of electronic transmission method is reasonable in a time when citizens and public agencies are increasingly relying on technology to perform their daily duties. Additionally, allowing for at least one electronic method will provide an efficient and expedient method for requestors to obtain records.”
Pashman Stein filed an action in July 2015 on behalf of Patricia Gilleran against East Orange, seeking an order compelling the City to respond to Ms. Gilleran’s e-mailed OPRA request. Oral argument on that case will be heard on October 28, 2015.