Gibraltar Van Lines, Inc. v. State Board of Public Movers and Warehousemen

A-2433-97T5 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1999) (Unpublished)
  • Opinion Date: August 18, 1999

MOVERS; RIGHT TO KNOW—The Board of Public Utilities may divulge only information about the number of complaints against a moving company and whether they were resolved in response to telephone inquiries about the company.

A licensed public moving company challenged the manner in which the Board of Public Movers disseminated information concerning complaints and to enforcement history in response to telephone requests from consumers. Specifically, it asserted that the manner and the substance of the information disseminated by the Board was arbitrary, capricious, and caused consumers to be mislead and misinformed. One complaint was that if a mover that received a penalty letter elected to admit the wrongdoing and accept the recommended penalty, the violation remained on the mover’s record for only two years. However, if the mover chose to challenge the penalty letter, a “Final Order” would be issued which would become a part of the mover’s permanent record if the charges were sustained. Further, the mover argued that by releasing information about movers over the telephone, the Board was misinforming the public and harming their reputation. The Board, in response, argued that providing information about a mover’s complaint history was necessary to protect the public. It maintained that the Right to Know Law should be liberally construed to fully protect consumers because the Law required the information to be “readily accessible.” The lower court found that the Right to Know Law does not afford customers the right to receive information over the telephone and that the public was receiving the “wrong version” of the facts, in some instances to the detriment to the movers. Part of the lower court’s order restricted the Board to stating only the number of complaints against a particular licensee, and whether such complaints had been resolved when responding to telephone inquiries.

The relevant part of the Law grants citizens of New Jersey the right to inspect certain public records. It also grants the right “to copy such records by hand, and ... also to have the right to purchase copies of such records.” Although the use of the telephone makes the information contained in the records more accessible, it does not convey a verbatim account of the file. The process of editing also introduces the possibility of error. Therefore, the Appellate Division upheld the lower court’s ruling as a reasonable accommodation of a mover’s right to have only accurate information given about its enforcement history and the Board’s desire to respond to consumer inquiries in a convenient format.