General Process and Service

Documents may be filed with the Council by e-mail, fax, postal or courier delivery, or in person as follows:

Delivery Address: 101 South Broad Street, Trenton NJ
Postal Service: PO Box 819, Trenton, NJ 08625
E-mail: grc@dca.state.nj.us
Fax: 609-633-6337
Senders are urged to use an appropriate mechanism if they desire record of receipt of their submissions.

In the absence of a determination by the Council, the Executive Director shall set appropriate compliance dates for all matters and may grant extension of any due date for good cause shown.

Notice:

While not required, requestors are advised to provide the custodian with a copy of a complaint filed with the Council.
Once a complaint is under investigation, the Council shall provide the parties with contact information of all the participants to the dispute.

Definitions

The Council uses the following terms in reference to Council proceedings:

Adjudication: Any action in which the Council or the Office of Administrative Law, acting at the Council's request, receives, hears or considers written submissions, exhibits or testimony from any person or entity or convenes for the purpose of deciding any or all issues presented in a Denial of Access Complaint.

Requestor: the person(s) filing a request under the Open Public Records Act or who files a complaint with the Council and who is a party for purposes of appeal.

Custodian: The individual official charged with the responsibility to respond to a records request and who is a party for purposes of appeal.

Participants: Collectively, all parties to a dispute and any other person or entity from whom the Council agrees to accept submissions.

Guidance

The Council provides general guidance to the public and records custodians through its web site. Printed versions of web site information are available to the public at no cost through the Council's office.

Informal guidance on routine matters may be provided at the discretion of the Executive Director.

Guidance material is general information and cannot, by its nature, apply to all circumstances. Its use is intended for general application by the public and records custodians, and tempered with consideration for individual circumstances under the law, rules, and Executive Orders. Where guidance is insufficient to assist a requestor or custodian, the Inquiry process should be used.

Inquiry

A requestor or custodian makes an inquiry by toll-free phone, fax, e-mail, or regular mail. GRC staff contacts the requestor to answer his or her questions.

Callers to the toll-free number are greeted by an auto-attendant that asks callers to record their information so that the staff will be able to research the matter and respond as quickly as possible.

If the requestor has questions about the law, GRC staff will attempt to provide guidance. If the problem is locating a government record, staff will attempt to guide the requestor to the appropriate public agency.

Guidance provided through the inquiry process is always based on facts provided through the inquiry, is not a final decision of the Council, and does not constitute legal advice or alter any legal right or liability already existing in New Jersey or federal law. Public agency officials should also review staff guidance with their legal counsel.

Complaint Handling

A formal complaint is made to the GRC by submitting the Denial of Access Complaint form available from the GRC's web site or directly from the Council's office. Upon receiving a complaint, the Council staff will provide the custodian a copy of a complaint if the requestor has not already done so.

After reviewing the complaint, the participants will be offered impartial mediation conducted by a trained mediator. Documents submitted to the mediator or shared with the participants are considered privileged and cannot be considered by the Council in adjudicating a complaint unless resubmitted to the Council by the participant who provided the document during mediation. If mediation is accepted and it resolves the matter, the Complaint is dismissed.

If mediation is refused or fails, GRC staff will formally review the Complaint. If it is outside the GRC's jurisdiction, frivolous, or without factual basis, the staff will advise the complainant accordingly. Otherwise, the staff will proceed with further analysis and investigation.

As part of the investigation, the custodian shall submit a "Statement of Information" to the Council that responds to the complaint. The custodian shall provide the requestor a copy of the Statement at the same time it is filed with the Council. A Statement may include such attachments, certifications, and affidavits as the custodian or legal counsel may deem necessary.

The Executive Director is authorized to solicit legal memorandums, response to specific questions, or other submissions of positions or analysis of the participants or other parties with interest in the matter.

Complaint Adjudication

When the staff investigation is complete, the Executive Director will issue a Findings and Recommendations (FR) report to the Council members, along with the participants' communications and exhibits.

All information submitted by a participant will be provided to the Council for its consideration. Neither participants nor their attorneys are required to attend Council sessions during which adjudication is scheduled.

Participants are not permitted to make oral or written presentations to the Council when it is adjudicating a Complaint based upon the written record.

Hearing

If the Council determines that it cannot render a decision based on the participant's submissions, a hearing will be scheduled. Depending on the circumstances, the Council shall decide to:

  • Conduct a hearing as a whole body or through a hearing panel or officer composed of one or more Council members, the Executive Director, or other qualified individual appointed by the Chair, or;
  • Forward the complaint to the State's Office of Administrative Law (OAL) for a hearing under the Administrative Procedures Act.

When deemed necessary by the Council or OAL to resolve a Complaint, records shall be provided the Council or Administrative Law Judge for in camera inspection. No confidential material so provided shall be released to the requestor or requestor's counsel unless deemed an accessible government record under OPRA by Final Decision of the Council and any reviewing Court.

If a complaint is transmitted to OAL for a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will schedule a hearing, take testimony or arrange for written submissions, and issue an Initial Decision containing proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. The Initial Decision will then be submitted to the Council for its consideration.

The Council will review the ALJ's Initial Decision and issue its own Final Decision, accepting the Initial Decision, accepting it with modifications or rejecting it.

Decisions and Orders

The Council may take preliminary or interim steps to resolve a dispute by issuing Orders as the Council may find appropriate.

The action of the Council to resolve a complaint following an OAL Initial Decision or a Council proceeding is either an Interim Order or a Final Decision that constitutes the GRC's determination on the issues raised in the Complaint.

An Interim Order or Final Decision shall be reduced to writing. The Executive Director shall provide the participants a copy of the Order or Decision in a timely manner.

Any participant disagreeing with the Council's Final Decision may file an appeal with the Superior Court, Appellate Division within forty-five (45) days. Information about the appeals process can be obtained from the Appellate Division Clerk's Office, Hughes Justice Complex, 25 W. Market St., PO Box 006, Trenton, NJ 08625-0006.  Proper service of submissions pursuant to any appeal is to be made to the Council in care of the Executive Director at the State of New Jersey Government Records Council, 101 South Broad Street, PO Box 819, Trenton, NJ 08625-0819. 

Stays

A participant intending to appeal any portion of an InterimOrder may file a request with the Council for a Stay of the Interim Order by the date set for compliance appearing in the Interim Order. Such request shall be in writing and shall state the reason(s) why a stay is appropriate in the matter.

Upon receipt of a request for a Stay, the Executive Director shall extend the compliance date to the next Council meeting. The Executive Director shall provide notice of the date of the meeting to the participants and shall set a date by which any opposition to the request must be submitted.

The Council shall grant or deny all requests for stays. The Council may consider the following factors when deciding Stay requests:

  • Clear likelihood of success on the merits by the Stay applicant;
  • Danger of immediate consequential or irreparable harm if the request is not granted;
  • Absence of substantial injury to other participants if the request is granted; and
  • The public interest.

Any denial of a request for a Stay shall provide the applicant with an opportunity to seek appropriate relief with the Superior Court, Appellate Division.