Brennan v. Bay Head Planning Board

In response to a public records request from a New Jersey resident who was in litigation in the Superior Court for Ocean County, New Jersey, over a local construction project on environmentally sensitive land, the Borough of Bay Head provided by email redacted minutes of executive sessions of the Bay Head Borough Council. Because of the method by which the Borough made the redactions, the documents showed the full text of the minutes when he opened them on his cellphone and revealed the Council’s discussion of parallel litigation involving the builder. The builder then sought and obtained an injunction from the trial court against the resident and others to whom he had provided the minutes, barring them from disclosing the information. The court also placed the resident’s affidavits in opposition to the injunction and one of the briefs under seal, on the ground that they also contained confidential information.

Representing the resident, we sought leave to appeal the orders on the ground that the First Amendment protects the right to communicate information, even private information, that is lawfully obtained from the government, and forbids the blanket sealing of the court records. The court of appeals, however, denied leave to appeal.