In Stop & Shop Supermarket v. County of Bergen, a three-judge panel of the New Jersey Superior Court’s Appellate Division today issued a published decision holding that a record requestor’s suit that sought a declaration that Bergen County violated the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) by failing to disclose an important document in response to a 2011 records request was mooted by the County’s production of that document in response to the requestor’s 2014 request.
The document at issue, an engineering report authored in January 2011, was within the scope of the supermarket’s July 2011 OPRA request but the County did not acknowledge the report’s existence when responding to that request. The report’s existence became known to the supermarket only after the county disclosed it in response to a the supermarket June 2014 request. The supermarket filed a lawsuit under the Declaratory Judgment Act that sought a ruling that the County violated OPRA by failing to disclose the engineering report in response to its 2011 OPRA request. The lawsuit also sought an order requiring the County to pay the supermarket’s legal fees for bringing the lawsuit.
The trial court granted the County’s motion to dismiss. The court held that the lawsuit was moot and that an attorney fee award was not warranted because the supermarket had the engineering report in its possession prior to the lawsuit’s filing. The Appellate Division affirmed the dismissal and noted that the the supermarket’s only available OPRA remedy was to seek imposition of a civil penalty against the County’s records custodian for having knowingly, willfully and unreasonably denied access to the report in 2011. The supermarket, however, did not seek imposition of a penalty.