In a non-precedential decision last week, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court determined that the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) properly redacted the home addresses of board members when responding to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, thus confirming departmental practice.
In the decision, Scheeler v. N.J. Dept. of Education., Mr. Scheeler, filed an OPRA request, seeking the financial disclosure statements of seven Woodbine Board of Education members. The NJDOE provided copies of the financial disclosure statements, but redacted each board member’s house number and street name, leaving the town, state, and zip code intact.
Mr. Scheeler then filed a “denial of access” complaint with the Government Records Council, which promptly denied his complaint; Mr. Scheeler next appealed to the Appellate Division. In analyzing the competing arguments, the state’s second highest court noted that while the financial disclosure forms include the home addresses of board members, no statute requires that board members include their home addresses on the forms. The Court also noted that non-consensual disclosure could chill an individual’s interest in running for office.
In its decision, the court also relied on the fact that the School Ethics Commission, beginning in 2013, removed the home address field from the financial disclosure forms because the information was unnecessary. Accordingly, the court concluded that providing a board member’s home address “does not advance OPRA’s purpose of maximizing public knowledge about public affairs in order to ensure an informed citizenry and to minimize the evils inherent in a secluded process.” The court concluded its decision by noting that the NJDOE’s decision to redact board members home addresses was not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable, thus allowing the redactions to stand.