Search Site
Menu
NJ High Court Rules Law Clinic Not Subject to OPRA Disclosure

In an opinion on July 5, 2012, the New Jersey Supreme Court determined that the Rutgers Environmental Law Clinic (RELC), a public law school clinic, is not subject to the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).  The main legal issue in this case was whether the clinic, by virtue of its ties to Rutgers, a state university, was itself a “public agency” and thus subject to OPRA’s reach.  The Court, reversing a decision of the Appellate Division, held that RELC is used as a teaching tool for students and acts as a private law firm in assisting individual clients with environmental issues and is therefore exempt from OPRA.

In 2004, RELC began representing two non-profit corporations who objected to a developer’s plan to build an outlet mall in Frankford Township, New Jersey.  In a series of lawsuits regarding this proposed development, the developer, Sussex Commons, sued a rival company, Chelsea Property Group, for tortious interference with economic advantage.  Sussex Commons also attempted to sue several officers of these non-profit corporations for conspiracy to commit the tortious interference.  As part of this conspiracy theory, Sussex Commons sought communications between RELC and Chelsea.  The trial court denied Sussex Commons’ attempts to sue the officers and stated that any such communications were privileged.  Sussex Commons then filed an OPRA request with Rutgers University seeking these communications.  The request was denied and Sussex Commons filed suit.

The trial court found that RELC was exempt from OPRA.  The court was concerned with the chilling effect that would occur on potential clients using RELC out of fear that their case files could be disclosed.  The Appellate Division reversed, finding that since Rutgers and the law school were subject to OPRA, the clinic as an arm of the law school was subject to the public records disclosure law as well.  The final word from the Supreme Court was that the clinic was indeed exempt from OPRA and was not required to disclose the communications.

The Supreme Court ruling is an important one for individual and organizational clients who seek out the assistance of law clinics.  Oftentimes, these individuals and groups do not have the funds to retain a private attorney, but wish to add their voices to land use and other decisions that may impact the environment, open space or other public resources.

The legal maneuverings of the developer in this case is commonly referred to as a “SLAPP” suit—a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.  SLAPP suits are usually designed to silence or punish public opposition to land use and other projects.  In keeping with our firm’s non-partisan mission to provide legal representation to a broad swath of clients in the environmental and land use arenas, Lieberman & Blecher has assisted many non-profit and community organizations that have an interest in land use projects that may impact the environment, open space or other public resources.  As a result of their representation of citizen groups and non-profit and community organizations, the attorneys at Lieberman & Blecher have also successfully defended SLAPP suits against our clients.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Our Attorneys

Recent Twitter Posts

  • Newark and Camden receive $400K each to clean up contaminated sites. https://t.co/x3V6AZHkOb
    3 days ago
  • Murphy Administration rejects golf course expansion onto Liberty State Park. https://t.co/cy8lGbz1uJ
    1 week ago
  • Preservationists score big win in fight to protect Princeton Battlefield. https://t.co/80vdiYX0GQ
    2 weeks ago
  • Glass recycling plant breaks ground on former quarry land in Sussex County. https://t.co/puNFMPIaOe
    2 weeks ago

Recent Blog Posts

United States Supreme Court Tackles Key Clean Water Act Judicial Review Issue

National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense, et al. 583 U.S. ____ (2018) Decided January 22, 2018 Since the passing of the Clean Water Act in 1972, the definition of “the waters
Read More
United States Supreme Court Tackles Key Clean Water Act Judicial Review Issue

New Jersey Voters to Decide Important State Constitutional Amendment concerning the Environment

On Tuesday, November 7, 2017, New Jersey voters will be asked to decide on a state constitutional amendment regarding the use of natural resource damages collected by the State in
Read More
New Jersey Voters to Decide Important State Constitutional Amendment  concerning the Environment

Appellate Division Case Demonstrates Importance of Carefully Negotiated Escrow Agreements

Real estate transactions involving commercial and residential properties frequently employ the use of escrow agreements to address potential environmental issues.  This practice is widespread in New Jersey and it permits
Read More
Appellate Division Case Demonstrates Importance of Carefully Negotiated Escrow Agreements

NJDEP Updates Soil Remediation Standards for 19 Contaminants

Effective September 18, 2017, new soil remediation standards govern the cleanup of contaminated sites in New Jersey.  The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (“NJDEP”) recently updated remedial standards for
Read More
NJDEP Updates Soil Remediation Standards for 19 Contaminants

In the media

  • Gulf Coast Town Center facing foreclosure

    Naples Daily News, September 16, 2015

    Wells Fargo filed a lawsuit Sept. 8 against an affiliate of CBL & Associates, the owners of the decadeold, 1.2 million-square-foot mall in south Fort Myers for a $190.9 million unpaid loan. The center has 94 stores on 204 acres, with such anchors as Super Target, Belk, Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Marshalls and Costco...

    Read More
  • Town liable for private company's leaking underground tanks, court rules

    NJ.com Jul 26, 2017

    CRANFORD -- A couple that owned a businesses in town and became sick from leaking underground tanks owned by an adjacent business can sue the township for damages because the tanks were partially ...

    Read More
  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
Contact Our Firm

Quick Contact Form