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Sunday, January 10, 2016

IN THE MATTER OF THE NEW JERSEY FIREMEN'S ASSOCIATION OBLIGATION TO PROVIDE RELIEF APPLICATIONS UNDER THE OPEN PUBLIC RECORDS ACT JEFF CARTER VS. JOHN DOE A-2810-13T2


IN THE MATTER OF THE NEW JERSEY FIREMEN'S ASSOCIATION OBLIGATION TO PROVIDE RELIEF APPLICATIONS UNDER THE OPEN PUBLIC RECORDS ACT
JEFF CARTER VS. JOHN DOE

A-2810-13T2
In this OPRA and common law right of access case, the New Jersey State Firemen's Association secured a declaratory judgment that it correctly denied access to records of a relief award to an Association member. The records requestor appealed.
We conclude a records custodian may not bring a declaratory judgment action against a record requestor to enforce its right to withhold records, because OPRA does not provide the records custodian an independent right of action. As to both OPRA and the common law, declaratory relief was inappropriate in this case because the declaratory judgment action was essentially an effort to preempt an imminent claim by the records requestor; and allowing a declaratory judgment action solely with respect to the common law would unnecessarily fragment claims. As a substantive matter, we conclude that under the circumstances presented, both OPRA and the common law required disclosure of documents containing the applicant's name and the award amount.
Judge Messano concurs in the judgment, but declines to join in the section of the opinion that expresses the general principle that if there is no private right of action under a particular statute, a party may not secure a declaration of its statutory rights under the Declaratory Judgment Act.