Like Justice Potter Stewart’s quote regarding obscenity – “I know it when I see it” – defining an “overly broad” OPRA request can be elusive. On December 9, 2022, in an unpublished decision in Colvell v. Hightstown Police Department, the Appellate Division provided us with a bit more guidance.
In Colvell, the Court affirmed a decision of the Government Records Council (“GRC”). One aspect of the GRC’s finding was its decision that requests for “all information in CAD system; all police records, tickets, complaints made to [Hightstown Police]. etc. in past; any audio/video” and “all documentation, police records, tickets, audio/video of investigation for complaint-warrant; any telephone communications, records, etc. (May 2019 and any previous/past history).”
While the use of specific words does not necessarily doom any request, one should beware the use of generic terms, such as “all documentation,” “police records,” “records, etc.,” “any audio/video” and “all information in CAD system.” OPRA requests must be more specific. Sometimes requestors err on the side of being overly inclusive. But less is more. Rather than submit one request that attempts to cover all possible responsive records, a series of appropriate requests can be structured. A requestor should consider asking for specific records. When those specific records are received, those records should be used to potentially identify other records that may be of interest. This way, the requestor can be more specific in future requests.