Municipal Fee for Copies Was Unreasonable – Libertarian Party v. Murphy

Allowable fees for discovery in municipal court cases continues to be a controversial and unsettled area of the law. The fees charged for municipal court discovery around the state vary widely among jurisdictions. Moreover, there is little law on the subject. The schedule of fees for copies of motor vehicle reports is set forth under NJSA 39:4-131 and generally conforms to the fee schedule in the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) when the person seeking a copy of the records appears in person. (75 cents for first 10 pages; 50 cents for the next 10 pages and 25 cents per all other pages. See NJSA 47:1A-5(b). See also NJSA 39:4-131.1) If copies are requested other than in person, an additional fee of up to $5.00 may be added for the first 3 pages and $1.00 per page thereafter to cover the administrative costs of the report.

The law is less clear on how to bill for information that is recorded on media other than paper, such as videotape, DVD, computer diskettes and the like.

Today, in Libertarian Party of Central New Jersey v. Murphy, the Appellate Division ruled that a fee of $55 set by ordinance for the copying of the minutes of the township council on a computer diskette was unreasonable and had obviously been set by the municipality to discourage requests for this information. The Court further held that the fee for copying records on such media must be limited to the actual costs of duplication as required under OPRA.

The publication of this case may provide municipal prosecutors, defense attorneys and police agencies with a measure of legal guidance on how much to charge for various types of discovery, especially discovery stored on electronic media.

Download a copy of Libertarian Party v. Murphy.

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