New Jersey Land Title Association v. State Records Committee

315 N.J. Super. 17, 716 A.2d 541 (App. Div. 1998)
  • Opinion Date: August 25, 1998

RECORDING—Although the State Records Committee has the authority to approve a County Clerk’s destruction schedule for expired Notices of Settlement, Lis Pendens, and Tax Liens, its decision to approve such destruction was found to arbitrary and unreasonable.

This case arose from a dispute between a trade association for title insurance and abstract companies and two county Clerks about a plan by the Clerks to destroy a series of public records consisting of notices of settlement, lis pendens, and federal tax liens whose statutory dates had expired. The State Records Committee approved the Clerk’s decision to destroy these records. Claiming that the Clerks are statutorily required to permanently retain the records, the association objected and filed an appeal. The lower court found in favor of the Records Committee based on the New Jersey Destruction of Public Records Law. The association then appealed that decision. The Appellate Division upheld the lower court’s decision so far as it held that the Clerks and the Committee had a right to establish guidelines for the destruction of records, but reversed the Committee’s final decision to destroy the particular records. It found the Committee’s decision to be arbitrary and capricious because the Committee ignored its own findings that “longer retention of these records may be in the public interest” while approving the destruction of the records. Consequently, the Court found that the Committee had failed to provide a rational basis for the determination it made to destroy the records. Further, it found the Committee’s remark that “retention schedules for all public records must be consistent with the existing laws of New Jersey and the United States” to be uncertain in its meaning and incorrect. The Court also found the Committee’s other rationale that “increasing the retention requirements… may invoke the State Constitutional provision regarding unfunded mandates” to be without any support.

In summary, although the Appellate Division concluded that the Committee has the authority to promulgate retention schedules and approve the destruction of records without express statutory authorization, the Court still found that the Committee’s decision to authorize destruction of the records in question was arbitrary and unreasonable under the circumstances presented.