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Attorney’s Fees Not Available Under OPMA

By on December 16, 2020 in Open Public Meetings Act with 0 Comments

Plaintiff John Paff filed a lawsuit in the Law Division of the New Jersey Superior Court against the Trenton Board of Education (“Board”) alleging, in part, that the Board violated the Open Public Meetings Act (“OPMA”) and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act (“NJCRA”) because the Board did not reference the payment of a merit bonus to the Superintendent on its agenda for a public meeting. Plaintiff argued that if he prevailed on this issue, he would be entitled to attorney’s fees under OPMA. While the Superior Court found that the Board violated OPMA by failing to provide the public with adequate notice pursuant to N.J.S.A. 10:4-8(d), it denied Plaintiff’s request for attorney’s fees. Plaintiff appealed to the New Jersey Appellate Division.

On November 13, 2020, the Appellate Division in Paff v. Trenton Board of Education confirmed that attorney’s fees are not an available remedy under OPMA or NJCRA. The plain reading of OPMA demonstrates that OPMA provides limited monetary penalties for persons who knowingly violate this law, but it does not provide for attorney’s fees and costs to the prevailing party. Similarly, the NJCRA does not supplement remedies under OPMA. As such, even though Plaintiff was successful in obtaining a ruling that the Board violated OPMA, he was not entitled to attorney’s fees.

Note that OPMA is different than the Open Public Records Act, which does expressly provide for attorney’s fees if a party prevails in Superior Court against a public entity.

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Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev

About the Author

About the Author:

Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev, Esq. concentrates her practice on the representation of boards of education and charter schools in all areas of school law including: labor and employment, special education, Section 504, student discipline, FERPA, Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, student residency, civil rights, tenure, OPRA, and OPMA. In connection with these representations, she is experienced in handling matters before State and Federal courts, including the Office of Administrative Law. Ms. Dev is an experienced special education litigator and defends school districts in due process hearings from inception through trial. In addition, she has handled matters before governmental agencies, including the U.S. Office for Civil Rights and New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. Ms. Dev routinely conducts training and seminars, drafts policies and manuals, and provides strategic advice to school administrators regarding school law issues. Ms. Dev was recently recognized as one of South Jersey’s Awesome Attorneys as published by South Jersey Magazine. She is licensed to practice law in New Jersey, the District Court for the District of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

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