A New Jersey court has ruled that municipalities do not have to provide public records to requesters in a computer-readable format if they are not already stored in such a format.
The Courier News, a Gannett newspaper in New Jersey, lost its open records case this week against the Borough of Raritan for free access to borough payroll records from 2008 and 2009 in a searchable digital database format, MyCentralJersey.com reported.
The newspaper wanted the records in spreadsheet format in order to compare them with other municipalities, but the borough wanted to charge a $1,100 fee.
Raritan Borough claimed the fee would cover the cost of hiring a programmer to convert the data into the format the newspaper requested. But the Courier News contends that the borough already maintains the data in a format similar to what it requested.
The state’s open records law requires the borough to provide the records in the medium in which they are maintained, but Judge Yolanda Ciccone said the newspaper had not "established to a certainty” that the borough possessed the records in the format requested, MyCentralJersey.com reported.
"We find the burden of charging the taxpayer of New Jersey to produce records that already exist in a common and usable format, merely for the convenience of the requestor, to be . . . unreasonable,” Ciccone wrote in her decision.