In a decision favorable to school districts, a New Jersey Superior Court judge on June 9 temporarily halted Open Public Records Act litigation against 41 school districts in Bergen County. In Innisfree Foundation v. Wyckoff Public Schools et al., the dispute involved compelling these districts to produce copies of settlement agreements entered into by parents of children with disabilities, as well as copies of all tuition contracts between various Bergen County public school districts and receiving schools that are providing special education students with services. The court issued its order pending the resolution of four similar cases on appeal in the Appellate Division of Superior Court.
The ruling temporarily stays the proceedings both in terms of production of the agreements, and any seeking of legal fees by Innisfree Foundation.
In issuing its order, the court pointed out that there is currently litigation involving nearly identical issues not only in Bergen County, but also around the state, and that issuing a stay of the proceedings until the Appellate Division renders its decisions in the four pending cases promotes judicial economy, fairness and uniformity of results. Specifically the court said, “Under OPRA, the prevailing party is entitled to reasonable attorney fees. It violates common sense principles of fairness to subject defendant school districts to vast attorney fees unnecessarily, particularly when their motivation in withholding the records was to avoid potential forfeiture of funding” under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Further, it would be inequitable to subject Bergen County school districts to the fee-shifting provisions of OPRA, in an unsettled area of the law currently pending determination by the Appellate Division.”
The NJSBA has joined in as a friend of the court in the four Appellate Division cases mentioned in the court’s order. NJSBA will report to the membership on the outcome of these decisions when they are rendered.