Evesham School District v. ACLU-NJ

Jeanne LoCicero/ACLU-NJ

ACLU-NJ v. Evesham (Government Records Council)

On November 26, 2007, the ACLU-NJ filed a complaint before the Government Records Council, challenging the school district's denial of our Open Public Records Act request. The ACLU-NJ had requested e-mails from board members personal email accounts that discussed government business (namely, that discussed the board's decision to no longer show a video that included gay and lesbian families). The ACLU-NJ argues that e-mails from personal e-mail accounts are subject to OPRA if the personal e-mail account was being used for government business. (The board members do not have district accounts so all business is conducted via personal e-mail accounts.) The GRC previously ruled, in a separate case, that personal e-mails involving government business are subject to OPRA. The ACLU-NJ has agreed to participate in GRC's mediation program and is waiting to hear whether Evesham will agree to same.

Evesham v. ACLU-NJ (N.J. Superior Court)

In addition to the matter before the GRC, there is a lawsuit in state court on the same issue. In response to the ACLU-NJ's request for e-mails, Evesham preemptively filed suit against the ACLU-NJ in Burlington County Law Division (Evesham School District v. ACLU-NJ), seeking a declaration from the court that it did not need to turn over the e-mails from the personal e-mail accounts. On November 26, 2007, the ACLU-NJ filed a motion to dismiss this action because:

  • (1) OPRA doesn't provide a cause of action for government agencies;
  • (2) OPRA grants the requestor the right to decide whether to bring a case to the Law Division or to the Government Records Council, and allowing this lawsuit would usurp the right of the requestor to choose the forum; and
  • (3) while ACLU-NJ may be equipped to defend and counterclaim such a lawsuit, other less-equipped requestors would have to abandon their requests or would be chilled if they knew they could be subject to lawsuit for making a request.

On the same day that we filed the motion to dismiss in the Law Division, we also filed an affirmative complaint against the school district on the e-mail issue in the Government Records Council. On December 21, 2007, the Law Division judge ordered that he would stay the proceedings in state court until the Government Records Council issued its decision on the merits of the case (in essence, rejecting Evesham's attempt to deny the ACLU-NJ the right to choose the forum where the matter should be heard).

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