Chiaffarano v. Department of Consumer Affairs

On December 6, 2010, the ACLU-NJ's Open Governance Project filed a lawsuit against the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Office of Local Code Enforcement for denying access to building and site plans for a salt storage barn. The barn, located in Bethlehem Township, Hunterdon County, was constructed in 2007 using taxpayer dollars. The plaintiff, township resident Carole Chiaffarano requested the plans in 2010 because she had reason to believe the plans used to build the salt barn differed from the plans the township submitted to the DCA and other state agencies for approval. In addition to written requests, she called the DCA on to schedule an office visit to review the plans. She was told that such a review is "prohibited by state law" and that "only the engineer or the owner of the plans" could access records. Chiaffarano had already received the building and site plans from Bethlehem Township and wanted to compare them to the ones filed with the DCA. In denying the request, the DCA cited Executive Order 21, which allows state agencies to reject requests for public records that could raise the likelihood of terrorism or heighten the impact of an attack. The barn stores road salt and has plastic windows and one door. The DCA also denied her request for the information under the common law rights of New Jersey citizens to access public records. Within a month after filing suit, the state agreed to release the records in January 2012.

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