NORTH JERSEY MEDIA GROUP INC., D/B/A THE RECORD VS. STATE OF NEW JERSEY OFFICE OF THE GOVERNOR Â (L-1059-14 AND L-0248-14, MERCER COUNTY AND STATEWIDE)(CONSOLIDATED) ( 2017 )


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  •                     NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE
                       APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
    
                                          SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY
                                          APPELLATE DIVISION
                                          DOCKET NO. A-3947-14T3
                                                      A-3948-14T3
    
    NORTH JERSEY MEDIA GROUP INC.,
    d/b/a THE RECORD,
    
          Plaintiff-Appellant,
                                             APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION
    
    v.                                            August 3, 2017
    
    STATE OF NEW JERSEY OFFICE OF               APPELLATE DIVISION
    THE GOVERNOR,
    
          Defendant-Respondent,
    
    and
    
    NED NURICK, ASSISTANT COUNSEL
    AND A CUSTODIAN OF PUBLIC RECORDS
    FOR THE OFFICE OF THE GOVERNOR,
    
          Defendant.
    
    ____________________________________
    
              Argued January 24, 2017 – Decided August 3, 2017
    
              Before Judges Fisher, Leone and Vernoia.
    
              On appeal from the Superior Court of New
              Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, Docket
              Nos. L-1059-14 and L-0248-14.
    
              Samuel J. Samaro argued the cause for
              appellant (Pashman Stein, attorneys; Mr.
              Samaro and Jennifer A. Borg, of counsel and
              on the briefs; CJ Griffin and James W.
              Boyan, III, on the briefs).
    
              Raymond R. Chance, III, Assistant Attorney
              General, argued the cause for respondent
                   (Christopher S. Porrino, Attorney General,
                   attorney; Michael C. Walters, Assistant
                   Attorney General, of counsel; Jeffrey S.
                   Jacobson, Counsel to the Attorney General,
                   on the brief).
    
           The opinion of the court was delivered by
    
    VERNOIA, J.A.D.
    
           In these consolidated appeals arising out of two complaints
    
    seeking       production      of    public    records       under    the     Open    Public
    
    Records Act (OPRA), N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1 to -13, and the common law
    
    right    of    access    to    public    records,         we   consider      whether      the
    
    Superior      Court    has    the    authority       under     N.J.S.A.      47:1A-11      to
    
    impose civil penalties for knowing and willful violations of
    
    OPRA, and whether the court erred in denying plaintiff's request
    
    for relief in aid of litigants' rights under Rule 1:10-3.                                  We
    
    conclude the court erred in finding it lacked the authority to
    
    impose     civil       penalties      under        N.J.S.A.     47:1A-11,      and      that
    
    plaintiff was entitled to relief in aid of litigants' rights. We
    
    reverse and remand for further proceedings.
    
                                                 I.
    
           Plaintiff North Jersey Media Group Inc. publishes daily and
    
    weekly    newspapers         and    maintains       two   websites.     It    appeals        a
    
    December 16, 2014 order addressing motions filed in two lawsuits
    
    that    were     not    consolidated         but    which      the   court    considered
    
    jointly with the consent of the parties.
    
    
    
    
                                                  2                                     A-3947-14T3
        The lawsuits arose from plaintiff's requests that defendant
    
    State   of    New    Jersey      Office    of     the    Governor1     produce      records
    
    concerning     the       Port    Authority       of    New    York    and   New    Jersey's
    
    September 9 to 13, 2013 closures of local traffic lanes from
    
    Fort Lee to the George Washington Bridge. The closures caused
    
    significant      traffic         delays     in        Fort    Lee,    and    led    to     an
    
    investigation        by    the     New    Jersey        Legislature,        and    criminal
    
    prosecutions        of    Port    Authority       employees      William      Baroni      and
    
    David Wildstein, and Governor Chris Christie's deputy chief of
    
    staff Bridget Kelly.
    
        Plaintiff's December 17, 2013 OPRA Request
    
        On       December      17,    2013,     plaintiff         filed    a    request      with
    
    defendant      for        records        under        OPRA.     The    request        sought
    
    "[c]orrespondence (including but not limited to emails, memos
    
    and letters) dated from Aug[ust] 1, 2013 to the present" between
    
    Baroni or Wildstein, and Governor Chris Christie, Kevin O'Dowd,
    
    Maria    Comella,         Michael    Drewniak,          Colin     Reed,     and     Deborah
    
    
    
    
    1
      The complaints also identified fictitiously named defendants.
    One of the complaints also named as a defendant Ned Nurick, as
    "Assistant Counsel and Custodian of Public Records For The
    Office Of The Governor," but the record on appeal does not show
    Nurick was served with the complaint or that he participated in
    the proceedings in the trial court. No appearance has been filed
    on his behalf here. We therefore do not address any issues
    related to Nurick.
    
    
    
    
                                                 3                                     A-3947-14T3
    Gramiccioni,2       "related    to     the       lane    closures          of   the    George
    
    Washington     Bridge     during     the     week       of     Sept[ember]       9,    2013."
    
    Defendant's response to the request was provided in an unsigned
    
    December 27, 2013 letter from the "Office of the                                 Governor,"
    
    stating it "reviewed its records and has not identified any
    
    records     that    are     responsive       to     [the]        request,"       and      that
    
    "[a]ccordingly, [the] OPRA request is hereby closed."
    
          Plaintiff subsequently obtained from other sources a copy
    
    of a September 12, 2013 email concerning the lane closures from
    
    Wildstein      to   Kelly    and     Drewniak,          Governor      Christie's         press
    
    secretary.      Wildstein      wrote       that     "[t]he          Port    Authority        is
    
    reviewing      traffic    safety      patterns          at    the    George      Washington
    
    Bridge    to   ensure     proper     placement          of    toll    lanes.     The     [Port
    
    Authority Police Department] has been in contact with the [Fort
    
    Lee] police throughout this transition." Plaintiff observed that
    
    the email was covered by its December 17, 2013 OPRA request, and
    
    that although defendant represented it "reviewed its records,"
    
    it   failed    to   provide    the     email       in        response      to   plaintiff's
    
    request.
    
    
    
    
    2
      Plaintiff also requested records from anyone acting "on behalf
    of" the named individuals, "such as an assistant."
    
    
    
                                                 4                                        A-3947-14T3
           Plaintiff's January and February 2014 OPRA Requests
    
           In January and February 2014, plaintiff served defendant
    
    with    four     additional       OPRA     requests.     On   January     6,     2014,
    
    plaintiff served two requests for records of "[c]ommunications
    
    (including but not limited to text messages, emails, memos and
    
    letters)" related to the lane closures between fifteen named
    
    employees      and    officials     in    the   Office   of   the    Governor, 3    and
    
    Baroni, Wildstein, and Port Authority Executive Director David
    
    Samson. On February 2, 2014, plaintiff requested records related
    
    to defendant's policies for the use of personal email accounts
    
    to conduct official or public business. On February 27, 2014,
    
    plaintiff requested defendant's policies related to the use of
    
    email correspondence for business and personal use.
    
           From January 14, 2014 to March 28, 2014, plaintiff's and
    
    defendant's      respective        counsel      communicated        concerning      the
    
    January   and     February     requests,        and   defendant's     requests      for
    
    extensions of time to respond. Defendant's counsel advised that
    
    the delays in providing responses were the result of defendant's
    
    efforts     to       respond   to        numerous     requests      for   the      same
    
    information, including those made by the Legislature and the
    
    
    3
       The individuals were Governor Christie, O'Dowd, Comella,
    Drewniak, Gramiccioni, Reed, Kelly, Louis Goetting, Charles
    McKenna, Paul Matey, Matthew McDermott, Lauren Fritts, Rosemary
    Iannacone, and Kara Walker.
    
    
    
                                                5                               A-3947-14T3
    United States Attorney's Office as part of their investigations.
    
    Plaintiff was also informed a law firm representing defendant
    
    was    conducting     an   investigation            of   the    lane    closures        that
    
    involved reviewing over 250,000 documents and interviewing more
    
    than   seventy      witnesses.     Defendant         advised    plaintiff       it    would
    
    provide documents in response to the January and February OPRA
    
    requests as soon as feasible given those circumstances.
    
           On   March    27,   2014,    the     law     firm     representing       defendant
    
    advised plaintiff's counsel it issued a report detailing its
    
    investigation of the lane closures, with over 3000 pages of
    
    exhibits     annexed,      and     that       the    report     and     exhibits        were
    
    available     on    the    law     firm's         website.     On    March     28,    2014,
    
    defendant provided a putative response to plaintiff's January
    
    and February OPRA requests, advising plaintiff that "documents
    
    responsive to [the] request[s] may be found at" the website.
    
           The February Action
    
           On February 7, 2014, plaintiff filed a verified complaint
    
    (February     action)      in    the    Law       Division     alleging      defendant's
    
    response to plaintiff's December 17, 2013 request violated OPRA
    
    and plaintiff's common law right of access to public records.
    
    Plaintiff     further      alleged      defendant's          response     to    the     OPRA
    
    request     constituted     part       of   defendant's        ongoing       pattern     and
    
    practice     of     violating      OPRA       and    denying        public     access    to
    
    
    
    
                                                  6                                  A-3947-14T3
    government        records.      Plaintiff         sought           a     declaration          that
    
    defendant    violated        OPRA,     an    award      of    civil       penalties        under
    
    N.J.S.A. 47:1A-11, an order directing that defendant identify
    
    the    records     custodian         who    supplied         the       December     27,       2013
    
    response    to    the    OPRA     request,         "a   sworn          statement       from    any
    
    persons involved in handling [the] OPRA request as set forth in
    
    Paff v. New Jersey Dep't of Labor, 
    392 N.J. Super. 334
     (App.
    
    Div. 2007)," and a "plenary hearing to conduct discovery and
    
    resolve factual disputes."4
    
           The May Action
    
           On May 9, 2014, plaintiff filed a second verified complaint
    
    (May action) alleging defendant violated OPRA and plaintiff's
    
    common law right of access to government records in its response
    
    to    plaintiff's       January      and    February     OPRA          requests.    Plaintiff
    
    sought the identical relief requested in the February action.
    
           The Amended Complaint                and   Order      to        Show    Cause    in     the
           February Action
    
           On   May    29,    2014,      plaintiff       filed         an    amended       verified
    
    complaint and order to show cause in the February action. The
    
    amended      complaint          repeated          the        allegations            concerning
    
    defendant's       response      to    plaintiff's         December            17,   2013      OPRA
    
    request, and detailed plaintiff's claim that defendant violated
    
    4
        Plaintiff also sought other relief not pertinent here.
    
    
    
    
                                                  7                                         A-3947-14T3
    OPRA in its response to six other requests made by plaintiff in
    
    2013 and 2014, including its January 6, 2014 request for records
    
    concerning     the   lane    closures.5   Plaintiff    alleged    defendant
    
    consistently    flouted     the   requirements   of   OPRA,   "flagrant[ly]
    
    disregard[ed]    its   statutory     obligations,"    and     engaged   in   a
    
    pattern and practice of violating OPRA's requirements by
    
             (i) failing to identify or even acknowledge
             the existence of public records responsive
             to [p]laintiff's OPRA requests; (ii) failing
             to disclose public records responsive to
             [p]laintiff's OPRA requests; (iii) redacting
             public information from records provided
             (over-redacting records); (iv) consistently
             refusing to provide a Vaughn[6] or similar
             index to explain the type of any record that
             they   are   withholding   or   to   explain
             redactions to a record they have provided;
             (v) failing to meet the statutory deadlines
             and their own self-imposed extensions; and
    
    5
      The amended complaint alleged defendant's pattern and practice
    of failing to comply with OPRA's requirements necessitated the
    filing of lawsuits in six other matters: North Jersey Media
    Group Inc. v. Office of the Governor, Docket No. MER-L-1059-14;
    North Jersey Media Group Inc. v. Office of the Governor, Docket
    No. MER-L-877-14; North Jersey Media Group Inc. v. Office of the
    Governor, Docket No. MER-L-67-14; North Jersey Media Group Inc.
    v. Office of the Governor, Docket No. MER-L-1432-13; North
    Jersey Media Group Inc. v. New Jersey State Police and Office of
    the Governor, Docket No. MER-L-310-13; and North Jersey Media
    Group Inc. v. Office of the Governor, Docket No. MER-L-251-14.
    6
      The term "Vaughn index" refers to a list of the records a
    custodian has identified as responsive to a request and any
    exemptions that warrant non-disclosure. North Jersey Media
    Group, Inc. v. Bergen Cty. Prosecutor's Office, 
    447 N.J. Super. 182
    , 191 (App. Div. 2016) (citing Vaughn v. Rosen, 
    484 F.2d 820
    ,
    826-27 (D.C. Cir. 1973), cert. denied, 
    415 U.S. 977
    , 
    94 S. Ct. 1564
    , 
    39 L. Ed. 2d 873
     (1974)).
    
    
    
                                          8                             A-3947-14T3
                (vi) failing to sign their responses or,
                otherwise, even identify their custodians in
                their   responses   to  [p]laintiff's   OPRA
                requests.
    
        The June 3, 2014 Case Management Order
    
        On June 3, 2014, the court held a joint case management
    
    conference in the February and May actions. Defendant's counsel
    
    claimed    defendant      provided       all    of    the     records     responsive       to
    
    plaintiff's December 17, 2013 and January and February 2014 OPRA
    
    requests.    Plaintiff's      counsel          represented        that    plaintiff       had
    
    obtained    from    other    sources       at    least      one    document      that     was
    
    responsive    to    the     requests,      but        which    defendant        failed     to
    
    provide. Plaintiff's counsel thus argued there was reason to
    
    question whether defendant actually conducted a search for the
    
    requested records and, if so, whether the search was adequate.
    
        The court entered a June 3, 2014 joint case management
    
    order in the February and May actions. In order for defendant to
    
    "evaluate    the    efficacy        of    [its]       own     searches,"        the    court
    
    directed plaintiff to provide defendant with any documents it
    
    obtained    from    other    sources       but    which       were   not       provided    by
    
    defendant    in    response    to    the       OPRA    requests.         The   court    also
    
    directed that defendant provide sworn statements "explaining its
    
    searches    for    records"    responsive         to    plaintiff's        December       17,
    
    2013 and January and February 2014 records requests. The court
    
    required that the statements be based on personal knowledge,
    
    
    
                                               9                                       A-3947-14T3
    "explain the recent search that produced responsive documents as
    
    well    as   defendant['s]        initial    responses       to     plaintiff's    OPRA
    
    requests that did not result in the turnover of any documents,"
    
    and    include      the   information      required    by     the    court    in   Paff,
    
    supra, 392 N.J. Super. at 341.7 The order permitted defendant to
    
    provide      multiple     sworn   statements    "to        adequately    explain     the
    
    searches in accordance with the personal knowledge requirement."
    
           Defendant provided two certifications in response to the
    
    court's      June    3,   2014    order:    a   certification         from    Drewniak
    
    7
      In Paff, we required the records custodian to provide a sworn
    statement describing:
    
                  (1) the search        undertaken        to    satisfy     the
                  request;
    
                  (2)the documents found that are responsive
                  to the request;
    
                  (3)   the   determination  of  whether   the
                  document or any part thereof is confidential
                  and   the    source   of  the   confidential
                  information; [and]
    
                  (4) a statement of the agency's document
                  retention/destruction policy and the last
                  date on which documents that may have been
                  responsive to the request were destroyed.
    
                  [392 N.J. Super. at 341.]
    
    We also required that the statement include an appendix with "an
    index of all documents deemed by the agency to be confidential
    in whole or in part, with an accurate description of the
    documents deemed confidential." Ibid.
    
    
    
    
                                               10                                  A-3947-14T3
    purporting        to     describe        defendant's           response     to     plaintiff's
    
    December 17, 2013 request, and a certification from Alexander H.
    
    Southwell,        a    partner     at    the    law     firm     representing       defendant
    
    purporting to describe defendant's search for records responsive
    
    to the January and February 2014 requests.
    
           Defendant moved to dismiss the complaints in the February
    
    and May actions. Plaintiff opposed the motion and cross-moved
    
    to:    enforce         litigants'        rights        under    Rule      1:10-3    based     on
    
    defendant's alleged failure to supply sworn statements supported
    
    by    personal        knowledge        detailing       defendant's       searches     for    the
    
    records      as   required        by     the    June     3,    2014     order;     strike    the
    
    Southwell certification because it was not based on personal
    
    knowledge; convert the February and May actions into a plenary
    
    action    and     permit        plaintiff       to     conduct    discovery;        and    award
    
    attorneys' fees.
    
           The    court           denied     defendant's           motion     to     dismiss     the
    
    complaint, and granted in part and denied in part plaintiff's
    
    cross-motion. The court first addressed the February action and
    
    found defendant's search for records in response to the December
    
    17, 2013 OPRA request was "unreasonable" and "inadequate on its
    
    face."    The         court    noted     that     it    provided        defendant     with    an
    
    opportunity to describe its records search by ordering defendant
    
    to supply sworn statements describing its search efforts. The
    
    
    
    
                                                    11                                    A-3947-14T3
    court found defendant provided only Drewniak's affidavit which
    
    showed      that     based     on        his     "strained"         interpretation           of
    
    plaintiff's request, defendant failed to conduct any search for
    
    the records requested on December 17, 2013. Defendant did not
    
    provide     an     affidavit       describing        the    search       for    records      it
    
    claimed it undertook in its unsigned December 27, 2013 response
    
    to   plaintiff's      request.          The    court      also   determined       defendant
    
    violated OPRA by failing to search for the records requested on
    
    December     17,     2013,    and       by    failing      to    identify      the    records
    
    custodian as required by OPRA.
    
          The court denied plaintiff's request for the imposition of
    
    a civil penalty, finding it lacked the authority to impose a
    
    penalty under N.J.S.A. 47:1A-11, and that a civil penalty could
    
    only be awarded in a proceeding before the Government Records
    
    Council     (GRC).    The    court       found      plaintiff      was    the    prevailing
    
    party in the February action and granted plaintiff's request for
    
    an award of attorneys' fees on that basis.
    
          The    court     also        addressed        the    May     action       and    denied
    
    plaintiff's        motion     to     strike         the    Southwell       certification,
    
    finding     it     documented       a    reasonable         search       for    records      in
    
    response to the January and February 2014 records requests. The
    
    court, however, determined plaintiff was entitled to attorneys'
    
    fees in the May action because plaintiff's initiation of the
    
    
    
    
                                                   12                                     A-3947-14T3
    litigation resulted in defendant's production of the requested
    
    records.
    
           The court denied plaintiff's motion for relief in aid of
    
    litigants' rights under Rule 1:10-3. The court reasoned that the
    
    June    3,   2014     order's     purpose    was    to    require     that   defendant
    
    supply sworn statements describing its searches for records in
    
    response to plaintiff's requests, and determined that purpose
    
    was achieved by the Drewniak and Southwell certifications. The
    
    court    also     found    that    because        plaintiff     was     supplied    with
    
    records responsive to its requests, relief in aid of litigants'
    
    rights was unnecessary.
    
           The    court    dismissed      without      prejudice     plaintiff's       claim
    
    that defendant engaged in a pattern and practice of violating
    
    OPRA and the common law right of access to public records, and
    
    denied plaintiff's requests for discovery and a plenary action.
    
    The court determined that further litigation of the claim with
    
    the concomitant discovery and plenary hearing was inconsistent
    
    with the summary proceedings contemplated under OPRA.
    
           The court memorialized its decision first in an October 28,
    
    2014 joint order in the February and May actions, and then in an
    
    amended      order    on   December    16,       2014.   The    court    directed   the
    
    parties      to   negotiate     the   amount      of     the   attorneys'    fees   due
    
    plaintiff. On March 31, 2015, following the parties' agreement
    
    
    
    
                                                13                                A-3947-14T3
    on the attorneys' fee award, the court entered a final order.
    
    This appeal followed.
    
                                               II.
    
          We   first      address      plaintiff's        claim       the     court     erred   by
    
    denying    its      motion   for    relief      in    aid        of    litigants'    rights.
    
    Plaintiff     argues      defendant's      submission             of    the    Drewniak     and
    
    Southwell certifications violated the court's June 3, 2014 order
    
    because the certifications were not from defendant's designated
    
    records custodians, they failed to explain defendant's searches
    
    for the requested records, and the Southwell certification was
    
    not   based    on    personal      knowledge.        Plaintiff          also    argues    that
    
    contrary      to    the   court's     order,         the    certifications          did     not
    
    include the information we required in Paff, supra, 392 N.J.
    
    Super. at 341.
    
          We defer to the trial court's factual findings when they
    
    are "supported by adequate, substantial and credible evidence."
    
    Zaman v. Felton, 
    219 N.J. 199
    , 215 (2014) (quoting Toll Bros.,
    
    Inc. v. Twp. of W. Windsor, 
    173 N.J. 502
    , 549 (2002)).                                       We
    
    review de novo the "trial court's interpretation of the law and
    
    the   legal        consequences     that     flow      from           established    facts."
    
    Manalapan Realty L.P. v. Twp. Comm. of Manalapan, 
    140 N.J. 366
    ,
    
    378 (1995).
    
          Rule    1:10-3      provides     a   "means          for    securing      relief      and
    
    
    
    
                                               14                                        A-3947-14T3
    allow[s]       for     judicial          discretion          in   fashioning          relief   to
    
    litigants      when        a    party      does   not    comply     with    a    judgment      or
    
    order." In re N.J.A.C. 5:96, 
    221 N.J. 1
    , 17-18 (2015); accord
    
    Abbott v. Burke, 
    206 N.J. 332
    , 371 (2011). "Relief under Rule
    
    1:10-3 . . . is not for the purpose of punishment, but as a
    
    coercive     measure           to   facilitate         the   enforcement        of    the   court
    
    order." Ridley v. Dennison, 
    298 N.J. Super. 373
    , 381 (App. Div.
    
    1997). "The particular manner in which compliance may be sought
    
    is    left   to      the       court's     sound       discretion."     Bd.      of    Educ.   of
    
    Middletown v. Middletown Twp. Educ. Ass'n, 
    352 N.J. Super. 501
    ,
    
    509 (Ch. Div. 2001).
    
           We reject plaintiff's argument that defendant violated the
    
    court's order because Drewniak and Southwell were not designated
    
    records custodians under N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1.1. The court's order
    
    did not require that defendant identify a records custodian or
    
    that the sworn statements be provided by a records custodian. 8
    
    The    order      directed          that    defendant        provide    sworn         statements
    
    explaining its searches for records responsive to plaintiff's
    
    OPRA    requests,          that      the    statements        include      the       information
    
    required in Paff, supra, 392 N.J. Super. at 341, and that the
    
    
    8
      Similarly, in Paff, supra, 392 N.J. Super. at 341, we did not
    require a sworn statement from a designated records custodian,
    but instead required a sworn statement from the public entity's
    "personnel."
    
    
    
                                                      15                                    A-3947-14T3
    statements be based on personal knowledge. Accordingly, the fact
    
    that       Drewniak       and    Southwell           were   not    designated     records
    
    custodians under N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1.1 did not render defendant's
    
    submission of their certifications a violation of the order and
    
    did not permit relief in aid of litigants' rights under Rule
    
    1:10-3.
    
           We       also    reject       plaintiff's      argument     that   submission    of
    
    Drewniak's certification violated the court's order because the
    
    certification did not describe a search for records and did not
    
    otherwise provide the information required in Paff. To be sure,
    
    and as the court correctly found, Drewniak's certification "did
    
    not    .    .    .     explain[]      the   search      for   records     responsive    to
    
    [plaintiff's December 17, 2013 OPRA] request," and failed to
    
    detail "what [defendant] did and didn't do" to search for the
    
    requested        records.       The    court,    however,     determined     Drewniak's
    
    certification did not violate the June 3, 2014 order because it
    
    established that defendant simply did not conduct any search for
    
    records      responsive         to    plaintiff's       December    17,   2013   request.
    
    Indeed, the court relied on Drewniak's certification to support
    
    its determination that defendant acted inconsistently with its
    
    obligations under OPRA and the common law in its response to
    
    plaintiff's December 17, 2013 records request.
    
           The court therefore determined there was no need for relief
    
    
    
    
                                                    16                               A-3947-14T3
    in   aid   of    litigants'      rights    to   compel      compliance    with      the
    
    order's    directive      that    defendant      explain     its    records    search
    
    because,    as    Drewniak's       certification       established,       defendant
    
    could not explain a search it failed to conduct. Under those
    
    circumstances, we are satisfied the record supports the court's
    
    conclusion that submission of Drewniak's certification did not
    
    violate the order.9
    
           Plaintiff also claims the court erred by denying relief
    
    under Rule 1:10-3 because the Southwell certification was not
    
    based on personal knowledge and did not include, as directed by
    
    the court, the information required in Paff. We agree. The court
    
    rejected plaintiff's argument and found defendant was confronted
    
    with multiple requests for records concerning the lane closures
    
    from    plaintiff,       the     Legislature,     federal      authorities,         and
    
    others.    The   court    noted    it     was   not   the   "norm    to   employ     an
    
    outside" law firm to conduct a search for public records, and
    
    that it was not unreasonable for defendant to have done so under
    
    the circumstances presented. The court concluded plaintiff was
    
    not entitled to relief under Rule 1:10-3 because Southwell's
    
    
    9
      We recognize the obvious and unexplained contradiction between
    Drewniak's certification, which states defendant did not conduct
    a search for records in response to plaintiff's December 17,
    2013 request, and defendant's December 27, 2013 response to
    plaintiff's request, which expressly states that a search for
    records was conducted and no responsive records were found.
    
    
    
                                              17                                  A-3947-14T3
    certification     adequately     described          the    search     conducted          on
    
    defendant's behalf and established the search was reasonable.
    
         Southwell's     certification       generally        describes      his       firm's
    
    investigation     concerning     the    lane     closures       "in     response         to
    
    certain   subpoenas,"      but    does        not      describe       any     personal
    
    involvement by him in the search for documents in response to
    
    the subpoenas. His firm employed a third-party vendor, which he
    
    identifies   only   as    "the   expert       firm,"      to   search   defendant's
    
    email exchange server and the personal email accounts of certain
    
    of   defendant's     employees,        whom    Southwell        also        failed       to
    
    identify. According to Southwell, unidentified attorneys at his
    
    firm then reviewed the records to determine which documents were
    
    responsive   to     the   subpoenas       or     were      pertinent         to      their
    
    investigation.
    
         Southwell also explained his firm first conducted a search
    
    for documents responsive to plaintiff's January 6, 2014 requests
    
    following the issuance of the firm's March 27, 2014 report. 10                           On
    
    or about May 8, 2014, his firm was provided with plaintiff's
    
    
    10
       This representation appears contrary to Southwell's firm's
    March 28, 2014 letter to plaintiff's counsel advising that
    documents responsive to plaintiff's requests were contained in
    the   firm's    report   and   annexed   exhibits. Southwell's
    certification states that the firm's search for documents
    responsive to plaintiff's requests did not occur until May 8,
    2014, when the firm received plaintiff's requests.
    
    
    
    
                                            18                                        A-3947-14T3
    January 6, 2014 requests, but neither he nor anyone at his firm
    
    personally undertook a search for the documents. Instead, his
    
    firm asked the third-party vendor, the purported "expert firm,"
    
    to search the database it developed in response to subpoenas for
    
    documents    responsive         to   plaintiff's     requests.11   According       to
    
    Southwell,    the        "expert     firm's"   search    uncovered      only    four
    
    documents responsive to plaintiff's requests that had not been
    
    included in the exhibits attached to his firm's March 27, 2014
    
    report.
    
         Plaintiff correctly argues the Southwell certification did
    
    not fully comply with the court's June 3, 2014 order, which
    
    required that defendant provide sworn statements based solely on
    
    personal knowledge explaining the search for records responsive
    
    to plaintiff's requests. Southwell's description of the search
    
    is not based on his personal knowledge, nor could it have been,
    
    as it was conducted by an unidentified third-party vendor and,
    
    at times, unidentified attorneys at his firm.
    
         Submission of the Southwell certification also violated the
    
    requirement       that    the   sworn    statement    provide    the    information
    
    required     in     Paff,       supra,   392   N.J.     Super.     at    341.    The
    
    11
      The Southwell certification does not describe or establish a
    search of all of defendant's government records in response to
    the   January  and   February   2014 requests.  The  Southwell
    certification details only a search of records that were
    assembled in response to subpoenas.
    
    
    
                                              19                               A-3947-14T3
    certification does not state whether a determination had been
    
    made that any document or any part thereof was confidential, and
    
    did    not       include       defendant's      "document        retention/destruction
    
    policy"      or    indicate       the    last       date    documents        responsive        to
    
    plaintiff's        requests      were    destroyed         as   required         in   Paff    and
    
    under the court's June 3, 2014 order.
    
           Plaintiff sought relief in aid of litigants' rights under
    
    Rule    1:10-3         based     on     the    deficiencies           in     the      Southwell
    
    certification, but the court denied the request and found the
    
    certification          showed     defendant's        search      for       the   records      was
    
    reasonable.        We are convinced the court abused its discretion in
    
    reaching that conclusion.
    
           An abuse of discretion occurs "when a decision is 'made
    
    without      a    rational       explanation,          inexplicably          departed        from
    
    established        policies,      or    rested       on    an   impermissible         basis.'"
    
    U.S. Bank Nat. Ass'n v. Guillaume, 
    209 N.J. 449
    , 467 (2012)
    
    (quoting Iliadis v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 
    191 N.J. 88
    , 123
    
    (2007)).         Here,     defendant's          submission         of       the       Southwell
    
    certification violated the unambiguous requirements of the June
    
    3, 2014 order, which plaintiff sought to enforce in its Rule
    
    1:10-3 motion. The court's failure to consider defendant's clear
    
    violations        of     the    order    was        without     any     explanation,          and
    
    
    
    
                                                   20                                      A-3947-14T3
    overlooked the purpose of Rule 1:10-3:                     ensuring compliance with
    
    court orders. Ridley, supra, 298 N.J. Super. at 381.
    
         Moreover,       the    court's       denial     of    plaintiff's         Rule     1:10-3
    
    motion rested on an impermissible basis.                            The court denied the
    
    motion because it determined Southwell described a reasonable
    
    search   for   the    records          plaintiff     requested.          But    Southwell's
    
    description    of     the        search    was     not     based       on   his       personal
    
    knowledge and, therefore, the record is bereft of any competent
    
    evidence supporting the court's determination that defendant's
    
    search for the records requested in January and February 2014
    
    was reasonable and compliant with its obligations under OPRA and
    
    the common law. See R. 1:6-6 ("If a motion is based on facts not
    
    appearing of record or not judicially noticeable, the court may
    
    hear it on affidavits made on personal knowledge . . . .");
    
    Allen v. World Inspection Network Intern., Inc., 
    389 N.J. Super. 115
    , 121 (App. Div. 2006) (finding plaintiffs failed to submit
    
    "competent     evidence"         where     the     complaint          was   not      properly
    
    verified   because         it    was    not    based       on       personal    knowledge),
    
    certif. denied, 
    194 N.J. 267
     (2007).
    
         Therefore,       we        are    constrained        to    reverse        the    court's
    
    December 16, 2014 order denying plaintiff's motion for relief in
    
    aid of litigants' rights as it pertains to defendant's failure
    
    to   provide    a    sworn        statement        based       on    personal        knowledge
    
    
    
    
                                                  21                                      A-3947-14T3
    explaining its search for records in response to plaintiff's
    
    January and February 2014 requests. On remand, the court shall
    
    enter an order pursuant to Rule 1:10-3 requiring defendant to
    
    supply       the     sworn     statements          based       on   personal      knowledge
    
    explaining         the     records    search       and     otherwise       satisfying      the
    
    requirements of the June 3, 2014 order.
    
           We also observe that the court relied on the Southwell
    
    certification to support its dismissal of plaintiff's complaint
    
    in     the     May       action.     The     court       determined        the    Southwell
    
    certification            detailed    a     reasonable       search        in   response     to
    
    plaintiff's January and February 2014 requests, and that the
    
    search       was    therefore       compliant       with       defendant's       obligations
    
    under OPRA and the common law.                      Because we are convinced the
    
    court could not properly rely on Southwell's certification to
    
    support      its     conclusion      defendant's         search     was    compliant      with
    
    OPRA     and       the    common     law,    there       was    insufficient        credible
    
    evidence supporting the court's finding that defendant's search
    
    for    records       was     reasonable.      We     therefore       vacate       the   order
    
    dismissing plaintiff's complaint in the May action, and remand
    
    for further proceedings based on competent evidence.
    
                                                 III.
    
           Plaintiff next claims the court erred by denying its motion
    
    for the imposition of civil penalties under N.J.S.A. 47:1A-11.
    
    
    
    
                                                  22                                    A-3947-14T3
    The   court    denied   the     motion   finding       it    lacked    authority    to
    
    impose    civil      penalties     because       the        statute    permits     the
    
    imposition of penalties only in a proceeding before the GRC.
    
    Plaintiff contends N.J.S.A. 47:1A-11 vests the Superior Court
    
    with the authority to impose civil penalties where there is a
    
    knowing and willful violation of OPRA and an unreasonable denial
    
    of    access    to    public     records      under     the     totality    of     the
    
    circumstances        presented.     We     are   persuaded        by    plaintiff's
    
    arguments.
    
          A   "trial      court's     determinations        with     respect    to     the
    
    applicability of OPRA are legal conclusions subject to de novo
    
    review." K.L. v. Evesham Twp. Bd. of Educ., 
    423 N.J. Super. 337
    ,
    
    349 (App. Div. 2011) (quoting O'Shea v. Twp. of W. Milford, 
    410 N.J. Super. 371
    , 379 (App. Div. 2009)), certif. denied, 
    210 N.J. 108
     (2012); accord Paff v. Ocean Cty. Prosecutor's Office, 
    446 N.J. Super. 163
    , 175 (App. Div.), certif. granted, 
    228 N.J. 403
    
    (2016); Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP v. N.J. Dep't. of Law & Pub.
    
    Safety, 
    421 N.J. Super. 489
    , 497 (App. Div. 2011); MAG Entm't,
    
    LLC v. Div. of Alcoholic Beverage Control, 
    375 N.J. Super. 534
    ,
    
    543 (App. Div. 2005). "Our standard of review is plenary with
    
    respect to [a trial court's] interpretation of OPRA and its
    
    exclusions." Gilleran v. Twp. of Bloomfield, 
    440 N.J. Super. 490
    , 497 (App. Div. 2015), rev'd on other grounds, 
    227 N.J. 159
    
    
    
    
                                             23                                 A-3947-14T3
    (2016); see also State v. Goodwin, 
    224 N.J. 102
    , 110 (2016) ("In
    
    construing the meaning of a statute, our review is de novo.").
    
          "The purpose of OPRA 'is to maximize public knowledge about
    
    public affairs in order to ensure an informed citizenry and to
    
    minimize the evils inherent in a secluded process.'" Times of
    
    Trenton Publ'g Corp. v. Lafayette Yard Cmty. Dev. Corp., 
    183 N.J. 519
    , 535 (2005) (quoting Asbury Park Press v. Ocean Cty.
    
    Prosecutor's Office, 
    374 N.J. Super. 312
    , 329 (Law Div. 2004)).
    
    "In enacting OPRA, the Legislature intended to bring greater
    
    transparency        to     the       operations   of       government        and    public
    
    officials." Paff v. Galloway Twp., ___ N.J. ___, ___ (2017)
    
    (slip   op.    at    15);      see    also   Sussex    Commons    Assocs.,         LLC    v.
    
    Rutgers, 
    210 N.J. 531
    , 541 (2012).
    
          OPRA provides that where a person's request for government
    
    records is denied, the requester has the option of challenging
    
    the   denial    in       one   of    two   forums:    by    "filing     an    action      in
    
    Superior Court" or "a complaint with the [GRC]." N.J.S.A. 47:1A-
    
    6; Mason v. City of Hoboken, 
    196 N.J. 51
    , 68 (2008). Challenges
    
    filed in the Superior Court and the GRC "shall proceed in a
    
    summary or expedited manner" and where "it is determined that
    
    access was improperly denied the court or [GRC] shall order that
    
    access be allowed." N.J.S.A. 47:1A-6.
    
          OPRA also authorizes the imposition of civil penalties:
    
    
    
    
                                                 24                                    A-3947-14T3
               A public official, officer, employee or
               custodian   who    knowingly   and  willfully
               violates [OPRA] as amended and supplemented,
               and is found to have unreasonably denied
               access    under    the    totality  of    the
               circumstances, shall be subject to a civil
               penalty . . . . [The] penalty shall be
               collected and enforced in proceedings in
               accordance with the "Penalty Enforcement Law
               of 1999," P.L. 1999, c. 274 [N.J.S.A. 2A:58-
               10 to -12], and the rules of court governing
               actions   for   the    collection  of   civil
               penalties. The Superior Court shall have
               jurisdiction    of    proceedings  for    the
               collection and enforcement of the penalty
               imposed by this section.
    
               [N.J.S.A. 47:1A-11.]
    
        Here,       the   court     determined      N.J.S.A.    47:1A-11   does         not
    
    permit imposition of civil penalties by the Superior Court. The
    
    judge   first    found     that    N.J.S.A.     47:1A-7,    which    defines        the
    
    powers, duties and jurisdiction of the GRC, expressly grants the
    
    GRC the authority to impose civil penalties. See N.J.S.A. 47:1A-
    
    7(e). The judge reasoned that because OPRA does not include a
    
    similar   express      grant      of   authority     to   the   Superior     Court,
    
    N.J.S.A. 47:1A-11 does not permit the Superior Court to impose
    
    civil penalties.       Second, the court found that an interpretation
    
    of N.J.S.A. 47:1A-11 permitting the Superior Court to impose
    
    civil   penalties     is   inconsistent       with   OPRA's     requirement     that
    
    challenges      to    records     request      denials     be   addressed      in     a
    
    "summary" manner. For the reasons that follow, we reject the
    
    court's   reasoning      and    conclude      N.J.S.A.    47:1A-11   permits        the
    
    
    
                                             25                                 A-3947-14T3
    Superior Court to impose a civil penalty where appropriate under
    
    the statutory standard.
    
        In our interpretation of N.J.S.A. 47:1A-11, our goal "is to
    
    ascertain   and     effectuate     the    Legislature's        intent."      State   v.
    
    Olivero,    
    221 N.J. 632
    ,    639     (2015);    see     also   Sussex    Commons
    
    Assocs.,    LLC,    supra,       210    N.J.   at    540-41     (finding      court's
    
    obligation in interpreting OPRA "is to determine and carry out
    
    the Legislature's intent"). We first "look at the plain language
    
    of the statute," Sussex Commons Assocs., LLC, supra, 210 N.J. at
    
    541, because it "is typically the best indicator of intent," In
    
    re Plan for the Abolition of the Council on Affordable Hous.,
    
    
    214 N.J. 444
    , 467 (2013); accord Gilleran, supra, 227 N.J. at
    
    171-72; DiProspero v. Penn, 
    183 N.J. 477
    , 492 (2005). Moreover,
    
    we "read and construe[]" the words and phrases of the statute
    
    "with   their     context,"      giving    them     "their    generally      accepted
    
    meaning,    according     to     the    approved     usage    of    the   language,"
    
    "unless inconsistent with the manifest intent of the legislature
    
    or unless another or different meaning is expressly indicated."
    
    N.J.S.A. 1:1-1; State v. Regis, 
    208 N.J. 439
    , 447 (2011).
    
        The     first    sentence      of    N.J.S.A.     47:1A-11      authorizes       the
    
    imposition of a civil penalty, and establishes the standard for
    
    the assessment of a penalty. It does not authorize only the GRC
    
    to impose a civil penalty, or prohibit the Superior Court from
    
    
    
    
                                              26                                  A-3947-14T3
    doing so. To the contrary, the first sentence of N.J.S.A. 47:1A-
    
    11 conditions the award of a civil penalty only upon the making
    
    of two findings: that there is a knowing and willful violation
    
    of OPRA, and an unreasonable denial of access to the requested
    
    government    records     under    the    totality      of    the   circumstances.
    
    N.J.S.A. 47:1A-11; Bart v. Passaic Cty. Pub. Hous. Agency, 
    406 N.J. Super. 445
    , 452 (App. Div. 2009).
    
        The       Legislature       established       only        two    forums    with
    
    jurisdiction to make the findings necessary for an award of a
    
    civil penalty under N.J.S.A. 47:1A-11: the Superior Court and
    
    the GRC. N.J.S.A. 47:1A-6. In setting the standard for an award
    
    of a civil penalty in the first sentence of N.J.S.A. 47:1A-11,
    
    the Legislature did not mandate that the requisite findings be
    
    made in a particular forum, did not authorize only the GRC to
    
    make the findings, and did not prohibit the Superior Court from
    
    making the findings necessary for the imposition of a civil
    
    penalty.
    
        Having      established       two    forums   for    the     adjudication     of
    
    challenges     to    government         records       requests      denials,     the
    
    Legislature could have chosen to expressly limit the forum in
    
    which   the   requisite     findings      for   the    imposition     of   a   civil
    
    penalty could be made, but it elected not to do so. We therefore
    
    discern    nothing   in   the     first    sentence      of    N.J.S.A.    47:1A-11
    
    
    
    
                                              27                               A-3947-14T3
    limiting the jurisdiction to impose a civil penalty to the GRC,
    
    and it is not our role to "rewrite a plainly-written enactment
    
    of the Legislature []or presume that the Legislature intended
    
    something   other   than   that   expressed     by   way   of   the   plain
    
    language." DiProspero, supra, 183 N.J. at 492 (quoting O'Connell
    
    v. State, 
    171 N.J. 484
    , 488 (2002)). We also will not "'write in
    
    an   additional   qualification   which   the    Legislature     pointedly
    
    omitted in drafting its own enactment,' or 'engage in conjecture
    
    or surmise which will circumvent the plain meaning of the act.'"
    
    Ibid. (first quoting Craster v. Bd. of Comm'rs of Newark, 
    9 N.J. 225
    , 230 (1952); then quoting In re Closing of Jamesburg High
    
    School, 
    83 N.J. 540
    , 548 (1980)).
    
          Defendant ignores the plain language of the first sentence
    
    of N.J.S.A. 47:1A-11 and argues the statute vests the GRC with
    
    the exclusive jurisdiction to impose a civil penalty because
    
    N.J.S.A. 47:1A-7, which establishes and defines the powers and
    
    duties of the GRC, expressly provides that the GRC may impose a
    
    civil penalty. More particularly, N.J.S.A. 47:1A-7(e) provides
    
    that if the GRC "determines, by a majority vote of its members,
    
    that a custodian has knowingly and willfully violated [OPRA] . .
    
    ., and is found to have unreasonably denied access under the
    
    totality of the circumstances, [it] may impose" a civil penalty
    
    under N.J.S.A. 47:1A-11. Defendant contends that because OPRA
    
    
    
    
                                       28                             A-3947-14T3
    does not contain a similar express grant of authority to the
    
    Superior Court, it can be reasonably inferred the Superior Court
    
    does not have the authority to impose a civil penalty under
    
    N.J.S.A. 47:1A-11.      We disagree.
    
          The plain language of N.J.S.A. 47:1A-7(e) does not grant
    
    the GRC the exclusive authority to impose a civil penalty under
    
    N.J.S.A.    47:1A-11,    and       does   not     limit    the    Superior    Court's
    
    authority    to    impose      a    civil       penalty.    N.J.S.A.     47:1A-7(e)
    
    authorizes the GRC to impose a civil penalty only "as provided
    
    for in N.J.S.A. 47:1A-11." Thus, by its express terms, N.J.S.A.
    
    47:1A-7(e) does not define the forum in which a civil penalty
    
    may   be    assessed    under          N.J.S.A.    47:1A-11,       or   modify     the
    
    jurisdiction      to   impose      a    civil     penalty    as    provided      under
    
    N.J.S.A.     47:1A-11.      Instead,            N.J.S.A.     47:1A-7(e)        simply
    
    authorizes the GRC to impose a civil penalty as permitted under
    
    N.J.S.A. 47:1A-11.
    
          Moreover, the language in N.J.S.A. 47:1A-7(e) relied upon
    
    by defendant cannot be read in isolation. It is one part of a
    
    broader statute, N.J.S.A. 47:1A-7(a)-(g), which establishes the
    
    GRC and defines its duties, powers and jurisdiction. When viewed
    
    in that context, the language in N.J.S.A. 47:1A-7(e) establishes
    
    that the GRC's powers include the authority to impose a civil
    
    penalty in accordance with N.J.S.A. 47:1A-11. As noted, however,
    
    
    
    
                                               29                                A-3947-14T3
    there is nothing in N.J.S.A. 47:1A-7(e) or N.J.S.A. 47:1A-11
    
    granting exclusive authority to the GRC.
    
          In addition, N.J.S.A. 47:1A-7(e) supports the conclusion
    
    the GRC does not have exclusive jurisdiction to impose a civil
    
    penalty and that the Superior Court also has jurisdiction to
    
    impose a penalty. N.J.S.A. 47:1A-7(e) narrowly grants the GRC
    
    the authority to impose a civil penalty. The statute provides
    
    that the GRC may impose a civil penalty where it determines a
    
    "custodian"       violated   OPRA      willfully      and   knowingly.       N.J.S.A.
    
    47:1A-7(e).
    
          In    contrast,     N.J.S.A.     47:1A-11      more   broadly     permits     the
    
    award of a civil penalty where "[a] public official, officer,
    
    employee or custodian" knowingly or willfully violates OPRA. As
    
    such, N.J.S.A. 47:1A-7(e) does not expressly grant the GRC the
    
    authority to impose a civil penalty in all of the circumstances
    
    for which a penalty may be imposed under N.J.S.A. 47:1A-11.
    
          We reject defendant's reliance on N.J.S.A. 47:1A-7(e) as
    
    support for its argument that only the GRC is authorized to
    
    impose     a    civil   penalty   under       N.J.S.A.      47:1A-11.    To    accept
    
    defendant's interpretation would render meaningless the language
    
    in   N.J.S.A.     47:1A-11    permitting       the   imposition    of    a    penalty
    
    based      on   the     actions   of    public       officials,       officers      and
    
    employees. See State in the Interest of K.O., 
    217 N.J. 83
    , 91
    
    
    
    
                                             30                                   A-3947-14T3
    (2014) ("when construing the Legislature's words, every effort
    
    should    be    made      to    avoid    rendering         any     part    of    the   statute
    
    superfluous"); Patel v. N.J. Motor Vehicle Comm'n, 
    200 N.J. 413
    ,
    
    418-19     ("we      do     not    assume      that      the     Legislature        used     any
    
    unnecessary or meaningless language"). Because N.J.S.A. 47:1A-
    
    7(e) does not authorize the GRC to impose a civil penalty under
    
    N.J.S.A.      47:1A-11         based    on    the    actions       of    public    officials,
    
    officers       and     employees,        the        only      logical      conclusion,        as
    
    supported      by     the      plain    language         of    the      first   sentence      of
    
    N.J.S.A. 47:1A-11, is that the Legislature vested the Superior
    
    Court with the jurisdiction to do so.
    
        We also reject defendant's assertion that N.J.S.A. 47:1A-11
    
    permits    only      the     GRC   to    impose      a     civil     penalty      because    the
    
    statute provides that a penalty "shall be collected and enforced
    
    in proceedings in accordance with the 'Penalty Enforcement Act
    
    of 1999'" (PEA), N.J.S.A. 2A:58-10 to -12, "and the rules of
    
    court governing actions for collection of civil penalties," and
    
    further states "[t]he Superior Court shall have jurisdiction of
    
    proceedings for the collection and enforcement of the penalty
    
    imposed by this section." Although the PEA provides for the
    
    entry    of    a     final      order    on    the       judgment       docket     for     civil
    
    penalties awarded by an administrative agency, N.J.S.A. 2A:58-
    
    10, it also authorizes the Superior Court to collect and enforce
    
    
    
    
                                                   31                                      A-3947-14T3
    a civil penalty where, as here, a statute directly authorizes
    
    the court to impose a civil penalty, N.J.S.A. 2A:58-11(a)-(f).
    
           Defendant relies on our decision in State v. Tri-Way Kars,
    
    Inc., 
    402 N.J. Super. 215
    , 220-23 (App. Div.), certif. denied,
    
    
    197 N.J. 259
     (2008), where we considered whether a municipal
    
    court had jurisdiction to impose a penalty under a Consumer
    
    Fraud Act12 (CFA) provision stating that municipal courts "shall
    
    have    jurisdiction   of    proceedings    for       the   collection    and
    
    enforcement of a penalty imposed because of [a] violation" of
    
    the CFA. See N.J.S.A. 56:8-14. We decided that municipal courts
    
    did not have jurisdiction under N.J.S.A. 56:8-14 to impose the
    
    penalty because the CFA regulations vested the director of the
    
    Division of Consumer Affairs with the exclusive authority to
    
    impose the penalty at issue.            Tri-Way Kars, supra, 402 N.J.
    
    Super. at 223. We thus read the language in N.J.S.A. 56:8-14 to
    
    grant municipal courts jurisdiction only to collect and enforce,
    
    but not impose, the CFA penalty. Ibid.
    
           Our holding in Tri-Way Kars is inapposite here. OPRA does
    
    not vest the GRC with exclusive jurisdiction to impose a civil
    
    penalty   under   N.J.S.A.   47:1A-11.    For   the    reasons   noted,   the
    
    Superior Court has jurisdiction to impose a civil penalty and
    
    
    12
       The Consumer Fraud Act is codified at N.J.S.A. 56:8-1 to -
    166.
    
    
    
                                       32                               A-3947-14T3
    thus, unlike in Tri-Way Kars, the language in N.J.S.A. 47:1A-11
    
    permitting    the     collection     and    enforcement       of     an   OPRA         civil
    
    penalty    does     not   define    the    limits    of    the   Superior           Court's
    
    jurisdiction. Instead, the language simply provides a means of
    
    collection and enforcement of a civil penalty the Superior Court
    
    and GRC are each otherwise authorized to impose.
    
         Defendant asserts that an interpretation of N.J.S.A. 47:1A-
    
    11 permitting the Superior Court to impose a civil penalty runs
    
    afoul of the requirement that OPRA "proceeding[s] shall proceed
    
    in   a    summary    or    expedited      manner."        N.J.S.A.    47:1A-6.            The
    
    assertion    is     contradicted     by    the   plain     language       of    N.J.S.A.
    
    47:1A-11, which provides for a trial to resolve issues of fact
    
    related to the imposition of a civil penalty and allows for the
    
    conversion of a summary action into a plenary proceeding where
    
    appropriate.
    
         N.J.S.A.       47:1A-11       provides      that     a   penalty          shall       be
    
    collected and enforced in accordance with the PEA and "the rules
    
    of   court    governing      actions       for    the      collection          of      civil
    
    penalties." Under the PEA, a court authorized to impose a civil
    
    penalty is required to "decide the case in a summary manner
    
    without a jury,"13 but requires that the court "hear testimony on
    
    
    13
      The statute includes an exception to the requirement that is
    not applicable here. The court is required to "decide the case
                                                        (continued)
    
    
                                              33                                        A-3947-14T3
    any    factual    issues."      N.J.S.A.       2A:58-11.           Similarly,      our     Rules
    
    require the court in a summary action to "hear the evidence" to
    
    determine any genuine factual issues, and permit the conversion
    
    of the matter into a plenary action where good cause is shown.
    
    R. 4:67-5; see also Cent. State Bank v. Hudik-Ross Co., 164 N.J.
    
    Super.    317,    324   (App.       Div.      1978)      (finding         that   Rule     4:67-5
    
    permits a court to direct that a matter brought on an order to
    
    show    cause    proceed       as   a   plenary         action).      Thus,      contrary      to
    
    defendant's claim, resolution of factual disputes at a hearing
    
    and conversion of a civil penalty proceeding                                into a plenary
    
    action    are    wholly    consistent          with      the       requirements         for   the
    
    imposition of a civil penalty under N.J.S.A. 47:1A-11.
    
           Although     our    interpretation               of        N.J.S.A.       47:1A-11       is
    
    required    by    its   plain       language,       it       is    also    consistent         with
    
    OPRA's    underlying      policy        "to   maximize         public      knowledge       about
    
    public affairs in order to ensure an informed citizenry[,] [] to
    
    minimize the evils inherent in a secluded process," O'Boyle v.
    
    Borough of Longport, 
    218 N.J. 168
    , 184 (2014) (quoting Mason,
    
    supra,    196    N.J.     at    64),     and       to    "protect[]         []    the    public
    
    interest," Sussex Commons Assocs., LLC, supra, 210 N.J. at 541
    
    (quoting N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1). OPRA enables "citizens and the media
    
    
    (continued)
    in a summary manner without a jury unless otherwise provided in
    the statute imposing the penalty." N.J.S.A. 2A:58-11(c).
    
    
    
                                                  34                                        A-3947-14T3
    [to]     play    a     watchful       role     in    curbing      wasteful          government
    
    spending        and       guarding    against       corruption          and        misconduct."
    
    Burnett v. Cty. of Bergen, 
    198 N.J. 408
    , 414 (2009).
    
           N.J.S.A.        47:1A-11       provides      a    valuable       means        to    compel
    
    compliance with OPRA by public officials, officers, employees
    
    and     records        custodians       who     might         otherwise       flout        OPRA's
    
    requirements and willfully and knowingly deprive the public of
    
    access    to     government        records.        The   civil    penalties           permitted
    
    under N.J.S.A. 47:1A-11 help ensure that records at all levels
    
    of     government,         including     the       highest      levels        of    our      State
    
    government,         are     not   willfully        and   knowingly        withheld          in    an
    
    effort to shroud possible wrongdoing from the public's view or
    
    deny access to government records to which every citizen is
    
    entitled. It is inconsistent with the plain language of N.J.S.A.
    
    47:1A-11      and     OPRA's      purpose     to    shield      the   recalcitrance              and
    
    obfuscation          of     public    officials,         officers,        custodians             and
    
    employees from the imposition of a civil penalty simply because
    
    a requester opted to seek redress in a court of law rather than
    
    with    the     GRC.       We   are   convinced         the    motion     court       erred       by
    
    concluding otherwise, and by dismissing plaintiff's claims for
    
    
    
    
                                                   35                                         A-3947-14T3
    the   imposition     of   a     civil    penalty    in    the   February   and   May
    
    actions.14
    
          Thus,    we   vacate      the    dismissal    of    the   February   and   May
    
    actions,     and    reverse     the     court's    order    determining    it    was
    
    without jurisdiction to impose a civil penalty under N.J.S.A.
    
    47:1A-11 and dismissing plaintiff's claims for a civil penalty
    
    in    the    February     and    May     actions.    We    remand    for   further
    
    proceedings consistent with this opinion.
    
    
    
    
    14
      We disagree with defendant's contention that there is no basis
    to impose a civil penalty because the court did not find either
    a willful and knowing violation of OPRA or that there was an
    unreasonable denial of access to the requested records under the
    totality of the circumstances presented. See N.J.S.A. 47:1A-11.
    The court did not make findings of fact under N.J.S.A. 47:1A-11
    because it concluded it lacked jurisdiction to impose a civil
    penalty under the statute. The findings required for a
    determination as to whether a civil penalty should be imposed in
    the February and May actions shall be made by the court based on
    the evidence presented on remand. We offer no opinion on the
    merits of plaintiff's request for a civil penalty in either of
    the actions. We also express no opinion on whether discovery
    should be permitted, but rather leave that issue for the trial
    court to consider in light of our ruling that N.J.S.A. 47:1A-11
    allows it to impose civil penalties.
    
    
    
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