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Volunteer Firemen May Not Pursue a Whistleblower Claim Under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act

October 26th, 2017 | Written by Richard P. Cushing, Esq.

Judge Accurso of the Appellate Division recently ruled in the case of Jeffrey Sauter v. Colts Neck Volunteer Fire Company No. 2 that volunteer firemen are not entitled to the protection of the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), N.J.S.A. 34:19-1, et seq., because a volunteer firefighter is not an employee of the fire company, even though such volunteers may receive Length of Service Awards Program (LOSAP) benefits and other remuneration.

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Are Municipal Fire Companies Subject to the Open Public Records Act?

August 30th, 2017 | Written by Richard P. Cushing, Esq.

Background For a number of years, there have been vexing questions as to whether volunteer fire companies are considered public entities or simply a group of volunteers who get together to fight fires.  The uncertainty arises from the fact that fire companies consist of a group of self-governing individuals who volunteer to fight fires without significant oversight from municipal officials.  Volunteer firemen often raise significant funds for their operation; they independently elect officers, provide for their own training and often purchase significant amounts of their own equipment.  On the other hand, the municipality in which they are located must permit their operation, often makes significant financial contributions, and frequently approves membership.  Many municipalities have ordinances establishing the creation or recognition of volunteer fire departments and those ordinances exercise various levels of control.  In addition, municipalities fund large capital expenditures for heavy fire equipment and make Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP) contributions.  Furthermore, while volunteer fire companies agree to fill the municipal function of firefighting, they also operate as social or fraternal organizations that provide recreational, educational and other benefits to members.

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City’s Delay in Abating Dangerous Condition Deemed Not Unreasonable

May 23rd, 2017 | Written by Tara St. Angelo, Esq.

The Appellate Division recently held that a delay of more than one year in abating a “dangerous condition” was not “palpably unreasonable” because the municipality was required to publicly bid a contract for such repairs.

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Court Finds That Uncooperative OPRA Litigant is Not Entitled to Attorney’s Fees

May 22nd, 2017 | Written by Tara St. Angelo, Esq.

Typically, a prevailing party in a lawsuit seeking disclosure of records under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) is entitled to attorney’s fees.  N.J.S.A. 47:1A-6.  However, the Court held in Grieco v. Borough of Haddon Heights, No. L-2876-15 (N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div. Oct. 19, 2015) that an uncooperative litigant who rushed into Court instead of alerting the municipality to an obvious mistake in its production of documents was not entitled to attorney’s fees.

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Appellate Division Confirms that Personal Information on OPRA Requests Is Protected from Public Disclosure

April 7th, 2017 | Written by Tara St. Angelo, Esq.

The Appellate Division recently upheld a trial court’s determination that telephone numbers, home addresses, and email addresses of OPRA (Open Public Records Act) requestors could be redacted in response to a request for public documents.  Wolosky v. Somerset Cty., et al., Docket No. A-1024-15T4 (March 30, 2107).

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NJ Legislature Considers OPRA Amendment to Limit Access to Personal Information and Alter Fee-Shifting Provision

March 2nd, 2017 | Written by Tara St. Angelo, Esq.

In February 2017, New Jersey Assembly Bill 4532 was introduced and subsequently voted out of the State and Local Government Committee.  The bill would amend the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) by exempting certain personal information from disclosure and narrowing the circumstances under which a successful litigant can be awarded attorney’s fees.

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Appellate Division Broadens Rice Notice Requirements

February 22nd, 2017 | Written by Tara St. Angelo, Esq.

The Appellate Division recently broadened the circumstances under which a Rice Notice is required to be given to an employee. New Jersey requires public entities to provide employees with notice of a meeting at which their employment status may be discussed and adversely affected.  N.J.S.A. 10:4-12b(8); Rice v. Union Cty. Reg'l High Sch. Bd. of Educ., 155 N.J. Super. 64, 73 (App. Div. 1977).  Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 10:4-12b(8), an employee is given the opportunity to request that such discussion occur in public session.   The Appellate Division broadened this category of notice in the decision Kean Federation of Teachers v. Kean University, Docket No. A-5481-14T3 (Feb. 8, 2017).

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NJ Legislature Re-Considers Requirement for Municipalities to Publish Legal Notices in Newspapers

December 20th, 2016 | Written by Tara St. Angelo, Esq.

On December 12, 2016, the New Jersey Legislature revived a six-year-old proposal to allow municipalities and other government agencies to forgo advertising legal notices in newspapers and, instead, post such notices on websites. 

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Supreme Court to Alleviate Confusion Over Whether Police Dash Cam Recordings are Subject to OPRA

December 19th, 2016 | Written by Tara St. Angelo, Esq.

The Appellate Division currently has conflicting decisions on whether police dash cam videos are subject to OPRA (Open Public Records Act).  However, it is anticipated that this conflict will be resolved soon via a decision in the case of North Jersey Media Group v. Lundhurst.  

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Appellate Division Says COAH Rules and Regulations Do Not Support a “Gap” Period Affordable Housing Obligation

July 19th, 2016 | Written by Tara A. St. Angelo, Esq.

The battle over New Jersey municipal affordable housing obligations continues, with municipalities on one side and Fair Share Housing Center (“FSHC”), the New Jersey Builder’s Association (“NJBA”) and a plethora of developers on the other.

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Appellate Division Addresses Township Liability for Falling Tree Limbs

May 23rd, 2016 | Written by Richard P. Cushing, Esq.

A recent Appellate Division case, Connor vs. Township of East Brunswick, determined two interesting issues pertaining to the dangers presented by publicly owned Bradford Pear and other ornamental and non-ornamental trees.  

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Legislative Summary: Selected Bills Recently Enacted as Public Laws That Relate to Local Units of Government

May 18th, 2016 | Written by Richard P. Cushing, Esq. and Kelly A. Lichtenstein, Esq.

Following is a brief summary of bills that were enacted as public laws by the New Jersey Legislature in late 2015/early 2016 and may be of interest to our municipal and public entity clients:

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Municipalities Are Not Required to Create Email Logs in Response to OPRA Requests

April 20th, 2016 | Written by Tara A. St. Angelo, Esq.

In April 2016, the Appellate Division unanimously held in the case of Paff v. Galloway Township (Docket No. A-0125-14T4) that the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) does not require a records custodian to create a log of emails in response to a request. 

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Do You Have the Right to Take Cellphone Videos of Police Activities?

March 2nd, 2016 | Written by Richard P. Cushing, Esq.

Citizen witnesses have sometimes been known to videotape and thereby expose police misconduct. You may wonder whether, if you thought the police were misbehaving, you would have the right to videotape that conduct, or if the police could prevent you from doing so and perhaps even confiscate your phone and/or arrest you. 

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Municipalities Should Review Their Landlord Registration Ordinances in Light of Timber Glen

February 19th, 2016 | Written by Tara A. St. Angelo, Esq.

Recently, the Appellate Division issued an opinion regarding a municipality’s authority to license residential rental properties pursuant to the New Jersey Licensing Act, N.J.S.A. 40:52-1 et seq.  Timber Glen Phase III, LLC v. Twp. of Hamilton, 44 N.J. Super. 514 (App. Div. 2015).

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Records Custodian Not Obligated to Respond to Duplicative OPRA Requests or Accommodate Overbroad OPRA Requests

December 22nd, 2015 | Written by Tara A. St. Angelo, Esq.

The Appellate Division in Lagerkvist v. Officer of the Governor of the State of New Jersey, et al., Docket No. A-0250-14T3 (Dec. 17, 2015) held that a records custodian did not violate the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) by failing to respond to a second duplicative OPRA request. 

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Gebhardt & Kiefer Successfully Defends Municipality’s Use of N.J.S.A. 2C:34-7 to Regulate Location of Sexually Oriented Businesses

December 4th, 2015 | Written by Tara A. St. Angelo, Esq.

On November 24, 2015, the Appellate Division issued its decision in favor of Gebhardt & Kiefer’s client, the Township of East Hanover.  Richard Cushing, Esq. argued the appeal on behalf of Gebhardt & Kiefer. In the recent unpublished decision, GED LLC v. Twp. of East Hanover , Docket No. A-0757-13T3 (App. Div. Nov. 24, 2015), the Appellate Division concluded that the subsections of N.J.S.A. 2C:34-7 regarding regulating the location of sexually oriented businesses are severable.

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OPRA’s Applicability to Volunteer Fire Departments and Rescue Squads

September 4th, 2015 | Written by Tara A. St. Angelo, Esq.

New Jersey Courts have recently issued decisions regarding the applicability of the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) to volunteer fire departments and rescue squads in Brooks v. Tabernacle Rescue Squad, Docket No. A-4685-13T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. July 1, 2015) and Stern v. Lakewood Volunteer Fire Dept., 2015 WL 631630 (Law Div. Feb. 6, 2015). 

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NJ Supreme Court Redefines Meaning of “Agenda” Pertaining to Open Public Meetings Act

August 19th, 2015 | Written by Richard P. Cushing, Esq.

The New Jersey Supreme Court recently decided a very important case for municipalities and other public entities in Opderbeck v. Midland Park Board of Education. In this case, the Court addressed and reversed the definition of the word “agenda” as used in the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA). 

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Social Media and OPRA: Tips for Complying in the Digital Age

August 4th, 2015 | Written by Tara A. St. Angelo, Esq.

Municipalities may be finding that their residents are more likely to turn to social media for news and updates instead of the traditional newspaper.  However, posts by municipalities and elected officials on social media communicating with the public are not exempt from the requirements of the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).

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New Jersey Increases Bid Threshold Effective July 1, 2015

July 29th, 2015 | Written by Tara A. St. Angelo, Esq.

The Division of Local Government Services (DLGS) recently announced bid threshold increases that will impact the award of public contracts by New Jersey public entities.

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The Negotiability of Temporary Layoffs of Public Employees During Times of Economic Distress

July 28th, 2015 | Written by Tara A. St. Angelo, Esq.

The New Jersey Supreme Court’s recently issued opinion in IMO Borough of Keyport v. Local 68, A-43/4-13 may eliminate the need for municipalities to negotiate temporary layoffs with union representatives in times of economic distress.  However, I stress the word may, as the long-term effect of this decision outside the specific facts of the case remains to be seen.  This case may represent a shift in the way the Court and the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) look at temporary layoffs during times of financial distress.

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Should Municipalities Post Information About Non-Municipal Groups on Their Web Sites and Social Media Pages?

June 9th, 2015 | Written by Tara A. St. Angelo, Esq.

Municipalities are increasingly using social media to convey messages about municipal events and emergencies to residents.  In addition, many municipal governments recognize that they operate in a community and attempt to support that community by posting about non-municipal events and activities or local businesses.  However, if a municipality does not have neutral guidelines in place to govern what non-municipal groups are featured on its website or social media sites, the municipality is subject to criticism that it is favoring certain groups or businesses over others.  And criticism can often turn into a lawsuit. 

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Should Municipalities Allow Public Commenting on Their Facebook Pages?

April 28th, 2015 | Written by Tara A. St. Angelo, Esq.

With the growth of social media, municipalities have turned to sites like Facebook and Twitter in order to effectively convey information.  Municipalities are also turning to social media to connect with their residents.  Local governments already connect with their residents through public hearings and meetings.  However, what percentage of residents are actually going to these meetings?  These meetings may exclude residents that simply do not have the time to attend.  Facebook offers an advantage to the traditional public meeting by allowing residents to post comments and voice their opinions on issues from the comfort of their own homes or on the go from their mobile devices.  However, allowing the public to freely post comments on a municipal Facebook page may open up a Pandora’s box. 

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