FRANK R. CIESLA O/B/O THE VALLEY HOSPITAL VS. NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND SENIOR SERVICES, ET AL. A-5309-10T1We affirm the Government Records Council's ("GRC's") ruling that a draft report prepared by staff within the Department of Health concerning a hospital's then-pending, but ultimately withdrawn, application for a Certificate of Need comprises "deliberative material." Such material is excluded from the statutory definition of an obtainable "government record" under the Open Public Records Act ("OPRA"), N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1.1. We hold that the OPRA exemption for deliberative material is absolute, despite prior opinions that have suggested or presumed that the OPRA exemption is qualified.
We further hold that the GRC's jurisdiction is confined to OPRA matters and that it lacks authority to adjudicate common- law claims for access to public records. Under the common law, the deliberative process privilege is not absolute but qualified. Exercising our original jurisdiction, we reject appellant's common-law claim for access to the Department's draft report because the asserted need for disclosure does not
outweigh the strong public policy in promoting robust and confidential internal advice to a governmental decision-maker. 12-04-12