Kaplan v. Board of Education Oral Argument

Oral Argument in Kaplan v. Teaneck Board of Education will take place on Friday, April 5th at 2pm before Judge Catuogno

Link to Argument

What is the case about?

Violations of the Open Public Meetings Act [NJSA 10:4-6 et seq]
NJ’s Sunshine Law was passed in the 1970s and requires all State Agencies, Public Universities, Municipal Governments, and Boards of Education to follow certain requirements. The Complaint alleges that the Teaneck Board of Education has violated these requirements for many years, including recent meetings at which Principal Valdes was removed from Teaneck High School, the Board met in secret, without informing the public about discussions, and more.

Is there evidence the Board violated the OPMA?

Yes, the Board Admitted to doing so
The Board admits they violated the OPMA. In their Answer to the Court, they admit that they technically violated the Notice Requirements for the OPMA [NJSA 10:4-8(d)] for Workshop and Regular Public Meetings in paragraph 41 and they admit that they technically violated the proper notice requirements for the special meeting of December 21, 2023 (at which they removed Principal Valdes from THS) at paragraph 22

[Link to answer: Answer]

Is technical non-compliance something important?

Yes, under binding precedent, the Court may be lenient in looking at the remedy used to cure a defect, but not as to whether a defect took place.
Under Polillo v. Deane (which the Board of Ed cites in their own documents), the Supreme Court of NJ said:

The thrust of defendants’ argument is that the Court should uphold the Commission’s recommendation on the basis of its substantial compliance with the Sunshine Law. They assert (1) that there was no attempt “to meet secretly or without some notice to the public,” as found by the Appellate Division, and (2) that any meeting at which formal votes were taken complied with the Act, thereby satisfying the requirements of the law. Although, on these facts, we impute to the Commission no wrongful motivation for choosing to conduct its business as it did, lack of wrongful intent cannot excuse noncompliance with the Act. Such a reading of the statute would invite abuse and would contravene the legislative intent in enacting the provision.

Rather than providing a new exception to the rule, we believe that defendants’ suggestion would swallow the rule. Accordingly we reject this argument completely and hold that strict adherence to the letter of the law is required in considering whether a violation of the Act has occurred.
Polillo v. Deane 74 N.J. 562 (1977)

What will happen if the Plaintiff wins?

Under the NJ Open Public Meetings Act, the Judge is empowered to do two things:
  1. Void actions that were done not in accordance with the OPMA [NJSA 10:4-15]
  2. Issue an injunction [NJSA 10:4-16] that the Board must follow the rules of OPMA going forward (which can be enforced if they do not follow the rules)

What can the Board do if the actions are voided?

The Board is free at any time to re-do the actions that were done improperly [see NJSA 10:4-15]. In fact, the Board claims that they have done so (at the meeting of January 17th). This will be one of the topics of discussion at the hearing on Friday.

How does the Board Re-Do the Votes they took improperly?

If the Board does decide to re-do their decisions (e.g. the vote to remove Principal Valdes), they would have to:
  • Properly Notice a meeting
  • Send out an Agenda stating the action(s) they wish to take
  • Abide by the requirements of the Open Public Meetings Act and any other applicable laws (e.g. RICE notices to affected employees)
  • Mention the information or testimony/reports from the previous discussion(s) they intend to use to form the basis for a vote
  • Since there are new members of the Board who didn’t attend the closed sessions in December, they will likely need to re-do the closed session discussion for the new members
  • Have public input (from those who did not know about the previous meeting at a minimum, but hopefully anyone who wishes to speak)

STAY TUNED FOR UPDATES

Hearing information:

The hearing before Judge Catuogno will take place on Friday, April 5th at 2pm. You can watch via the Zoom link below:
Topic: (MTD Hearing) Kaplan v. Teaneck BOE – BER-L-121-24
Time: Apr 5, 2024 02:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Join NJCourts Virtual Courtroom
Meeting ID: 161 626 3311
Password: 010820
If anyone is interested in reading the documents in the case, they can do so here: https://www.teanecktoday.com/blog/board-of-education/litigation/ber-l-000121-24-kaplan-vs-teaneck-board-of-education/

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