L.R. v. Cherry Hill Board of Education (Sup Court NJ, App. Div. 2014)

Practice Areas: Public Entity and Civil Rights Litigation, School/Municipal Leaders' Liability

In L.R. v. Cherry Hill Board of Education Custodian, Plaintiff, who was represented by an attorney, filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) complaint against the Board, together with a motion to waive the filing fee and proceed as an indigent. The motion was denied by the Superior Court, reasoning that OPRA is a fee shifting statute and a successful litigant will be awarded counsel fees and filing costs. Plaintiff’s Complaint was ultimately dismissed for failure to prosecute. Thereafter, a motion to reinstate was filed, along with a filing fee from Plaintiff’s counsel. The motion was dismissed as untimely, and Plaintiff appealed to the Appellate Division, arguing in relevant part that the Judge erred by denying her initial application to proceed as an indigent. The Appellate Division agreed, reasoning that the Superior Court abused its discretion by focusing on OPRA’s fee shifting nature, rather than whether Plaintiff had the means to pay for the filing fee. The Court went on to state that if an indigent person cannot pay the filing fee to start a fee-shifting action, the prospect of having the fee reimbursed in the future us if no value. The Appellate Division was satisfied with Plaintiffs proofs in support of her indigent status, reversed the Superior Court decision, and remanded it to Superior Court for an OPRA hearing.

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