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 & Sinkevich 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 & Sinkevich 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

  • DEP urged to set tough limit on 1,4-dioxane in drinking water. https://t.co/UESauZowsJ
    2 months ago
  • Beach access issue returns in Cape May County beach community, near the location of a similar issue that was litiga… https://t.co/tWOMcfTqwM
    3 months ago
  • Another effort to make the Delaware Water Gap a national park is underway. https://t.co/C00NZ43nZU
    3 months ago
  • New Jersey seeks designation of Lower Hackensack River as a federal Superfund site. https://t.co/czOI3hDNb2
    3 months ago

Recent Blog Posts

Don’t Let a Leaking Heating Oil Tank Ruin Your Life

Every environmental lawyer deals with leaking heating oil homeowner tanks. They are very frightening to homeowners who have never experienced an environmental problem before. Leaking heating oil tanks can cost
Read More
Don’t Let a Leaking Heating Oil Tank Ruin Your Life

Appeals Court Allows Strict Liability Claims to Proceed Against Large New Jersey Refinery

For years many New Jersey lawyers understood that the mere storage of petroleum was not an abnormally dangerous activity. That is an important concept because those who engage in abnormally
Read More
Appeals Court Allows Strict Liability Claims to Proceed Against Large New Jersey Refinery

RLUIPA lawsuits and free beach parking

RLUIPA defense counsel took note of a Florida case earlier this year that questioned whether free beach access constituted a sincerely held religious belief under the RLUIPA statute. The case,
Read More
RLUIPA lawsuits and free beach parking

Appellate Division Confirms Accessory Building’s Unused 80-Year-Old Plumbing Fixtures are Preexisting Nonconformity

Rantz v. Planning Board of the Borough of Bay Head, Docket No. A-2847-19 (App. Div. Sept. 8, 2021) This month, the Appellate Division upheld the Planning Board of the Borough of
Read More
Appellate Division Confirms Accessory Building’s Unused 80-Year-Old Plumbing Fixtures are Preexisting Nonconformity

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
  • Dark Waters: How a Class Action Catapulted NJ to Forefront of 'Forever Chemicals' Battle

    NJ Law Journal Jan 09, 2020

    As property owners become increasingly aware of PFAS contamination, and as individuals exposed to PFAS learn of the health risks associated with exposure, liability will likely affect entire supply chains.

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

Quick Contact Form