NJ OPRA request for all burial records from Rahway Public Cemetery in Rahway, New Jersey

Reclaim The Records filed this request with the Department of Law and Public Safety, Division of Consumer Affairs of New Jersey.
Status
Completed
Tags

Communications

From: Reclaim The Records

To whom it may concern:

My name is Brooke Schreier Ganz, and I am the president and founder of a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization called Reclaim The Records. We are a group of genealogists, military historians, researchers, and educators who advocate for greater access to historical and archival records held by government agencies. We are requesting full copies of all burial, internment, cremation, disinterment, and plot ownership transfer records of the Rahway Public Cemetery in Rahway, New Jersey, under the New Jersey Open Public Records Act (OPRA). Members of the public have been trying to get access to view these records about their own long-deceased ancestors for over a decade now, with no success and no compliance from the cemetery staff. We feel we have no other choice left to us but to compel the records' production through OPRA.

New Jersey Administrative Code Title 13, Law and Public Safety, Chapter 44J concerns the requirements for New Jersey cemeteries, including:

13:44J-11.3 RECORD OF TRANSFERS
a) Every cemetery company shall maintain records of transfers of ownership of interment spaces or niches which shall include:
1) The name of every individual who has ever held title to the interment space or niche; and
2) An indication of any transfer of ownership of the interment space or niche from June 5, 2006.
b) Records of transfers shall be indexed by:
1) The number of the interment space or niche; and
2) The name of each owner.

A full online reference is at this URL:
http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/regulations/Chapter-44J-Cemeteries.pdf

Therefore, these sorts of burial and transfer records are required to be kept for all cemeteries in the state of New Jersey, and presumably Rahway Public Cemetery also has copies of such records.

Furthermore, this cemetery is a public cemetery, not privately owned, and it is licensed by the New Jersey Cemetery Board, which is within the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. As such, it is also subject to the New Jersey Cemetery Board Law:

45:27-19. Record of interment, placement of cremains.
19. a. A cemetery company shall keep a record of every interment and placement of cremated human remains, which shall include the date, the name and age of the person, the cause of death when shown on the burial permit, the location of the burial or disposition, and the name and address of the funeral director.
b. A record shall be kept by a cemetery company of the owner of each interment space that has been conveyed by the cemetery company and of each transfer of an interment space to which the cemetery company has consented. A transfer of an interment space or a right of burial shall not be complete or effective until it is recorded on the books of the cemetery company and any fees required are paid.
c. The instrument of conveyance of an interment space shall include the actual amount paid for it and a description of the interment space sufficient to identify it, including its number as it appears on the cemetery map, and any other information required by regulation of the board. The instrument shall show the dimensions of the interment space.
d. A cemetery company that performs a cremation shall keep a record containing the following information:
(1) the name, last residence, age, place and date of death of the decedent;
(2) the name and address of the person who authorized the cremation;
(3) the name and address of the funeral home from whom the remains were received for cremation;
(4) the name and license number of the funeral director of the funeral home who delivered the remains for cremation; and
(5) the date of the cremation and the recipient of the cremated remains or, if no recipient, the final disposition.
L.2003, c.261, s.19; amended 2011, c.230, s.3.

A full online reference is at this URL:
http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/Statutes/cemeterylaw.pdf

As a licensed organization, the records are presumably also subject to New Jersey Administrative Code Title 13, Law and Public Safety, Chapter 45C, Uniform Regulations:

13:45C-1.3 SPECIFIC CONDUCT DEEMED FAILURE TO COOPERATE
a) The following conduct by a licensee may be deemed a failure to cooperate and, therefore, professional or occupational misconduct and grounds for disciplinary action including, but not limited to, suspension or revocation of licensure:
[...]
4) The failure to timely respond or to provide information requested pursuant to a demand under N.J.S.A. 45:1-18 or other applicable law or to provide access to any premises from which a licensed profession or occupation is conducted. Included within this paragraph shall be the failure to respond to any demand for statement or report under oath, the failure to permit the examination of any goods, ware or item used in the rendition of the professional or occupational service and the failure to grant access to records, books or other documents utilized in the practice of the occupation or profession;
5) The failure to answer any question pertinent to inquiry made pursuant to N.J.S.A. 45:1-18 or other applicable law unless the response to said question is subject to a bona fide claim of privilege;
6) The failure to make proper and timely response by way of appearance or production of documents to any subpoena issued pursuant to N.J.S.A. 45:1-18 or as may otherwise be provided by law;

A full online reference is at this URL:
http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/Documents/legal/Licensee_Duty_to_Cooperate.pdf

OPRA directs that "[a] public record under the common law is one required by law to be kept, or necessary to be kept in the discharge of a duty imposed by law, or directed by law to serve as a memorial and evidence of something written, said, or done, or a written memorial made by a public officer authorized to perform that function, or a writing filed in a public office." It explicitly says that "a “government record” means any record that has been made, maintained, or kept on file in the course of official business, or that has been received in the course of official business." [From "A Citizen’s Guide to the Open Public Records Act" - Second Edition – July 2011] It is clear that this public cemetery is required to keep these sorts of records under the law.

Furthermore, records such as these are not explicitly listed among OPRA's twenty-four exemptions. While OPRA does prohibit the release of specific types of personally identifying information, that prohibition is limited to Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, driver's licenses, and unlisted phone numbers. None of these types of information would be in the burial or plot transfer records we seek, especially considering that many of these records were generated more than a century (or two!) ago. The names and dates of death or burial of Revolutionary War veterans, for example, should not have any reason to be withheld from the public or from their direct descendants, as is currently the case.

Therefore, we believe these records should be available to us under OPRA. Please provide to us full copies of all of the burial, internment, cremation, disinterment, and plot ownership transfer records. As the Rahway Public Cemetery is many centuries old, these records may currently be in multiple formats: loose papers, index cards, bound books, microfilms, and/or possibly a text database for more recent records. We would prefer to have digital scans or digital photographs of all of the records, unless some of them are already in text database format, in which case we would prefer to receive the raw database file (i.e. CSV or SQL format, etc.) for those records. If there are microfilms in decent condition, we would like those to be digitized. We are willing to reimburse all the costs for the production and duplication of these records, but please inform us of those costs before fulfilling our request.

The requested documents will be made available to the general public, and this request is not being made for commercial purposes.

We look forward to your timely response in the next seven business days, as required by the law. Please be advised that if this request is denied we will be filing a Denial of Access complaint with the New Jersey Government Records Council (GRC). If you have any questions or concerns about this OPRA request, please feel free to contact us at 917-572-3834.

sincerely,

Brooke Schreier Ganz
President and Founder of Reclaim The Records
https://www.ReclaimTheRecords.org/

From: Muckrock Staff

To whom it may concern:

My name is Brooke Schreier Ganz, and I am the president and founder of a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization called Reclaim The Records. We are a group of genealogists, military historians, researchers, and educators who advocate for greater access to historical and archival records held by government agencies. We are requesting full copies of all burial, internment, cremation, disinterment, and plot ownership transfer records of the Rahway Public Cemetery in Rahway, New Jersey, under the New Jersey Open Public Records Act (OPRA). Members of the public have been trying to get access to view these records about their own long-deceased ancestors for over a decade now, with no success and no compliance from the cemetery staff. We feel we have no other choice left to us but to compel the records' production through OPRA.

New Jersey Administrative Code Title 13, Law and Public Safety, Chapter 44J concerns the requirements for New Jersey cemeteries, including:

13:44J-11.3 RECORD OF TRANSFERS
a) Every cemetery company shall maintain records of transfers of ownership of interment spaces or niches which shall include:
1) The name of every individual who has ever held title to the interment space or niche; and
2) An indication of any transfer of ownership of the interment space or niche from June 5, 2006.
b) Records of transfers shall be indexed by:
1) The number of the interment space or niche; and
2) The name of each owner.

A full online reference is at this URL:
http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/regulations/Chapter-44J-Cemeteries.pdf

Therefore, these sorts of burial and transfer records are required to be kept for all cemeteries in the state of New Jersey, and presumably Rahway Public Cemetery also has copies of such records.

Furthermore, this cemetery is a public cemetery, not privately owned, and it is licensed by the New Jersey Cemetery Board, which is within the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. As such, it is also subject to the New Jersey Cemetery Board Law:

45:27-19. Record of interment, placement of cremains.
19. a. A cemetery company shall keep a record of every interment and placement of cremated human remains, which shall include the date, the name and age of the person, the cause of death when shown on the burial permit, the location of the burial or disposition, and the name and address of the funeral director.
b. A record shall be kept by a cemetery company of the owner of each interment space that has been conveyed by the cemetery company and of each transfer of an interment space to which the cemetery company has consented. A transfer of an interment space or a right of burial shall not be complete or effective until it is recorded on the books of the cemetery company and any fees required are paid.
c. The instrument of conveyance of an interment space shall include the actual amount paid for it and a description of the interment space sufficient to identify it, including its number as it appears on the cemetery map, and any other information required by regulation of the board. The instrument shall show the dimensions of the interment space.
d. A cemetery company that performs a cremation shall keep a record containing the following information:
(1) the name, last residence, age, place and date of death of the decedent;
(2) the name and address of the person who authorized the cremation;
(3) the name and address of the funeral home from whom the remains were received for cremation;
(4) the name and license number of the funeral director of the funeral home who delivered the remains for cremation; and
(5) the date of the cremation and the recipient of the cremated remains or, if no recipient, the final disposition.
L.2003, c.261, s.19; amended 2011, c.230, s.3.

A full online reference is at this URL:
http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/Statutes/cemeterylaw.pdf

As a licensed organization, the records are presumably also subject to New Jersey Administrative Code Title 13, Law and Public Safety, Chapter 45C, Uniform Regulations:

13:45C-1.3 SPECIFIC CONDUCT DEEMED FAILURE TO COOPERATE
a) The following conduct by a licensee may be deemed a failure to cooperate and, therefore, professional or occupational misconduct and grounds for disciplinary action including, but not limited to, suspension or revocation of licensure:
[...]
4) The failure to timely respond or to provide information requested pursuant to a demand under N.J.S.A. 45:1-18 or other applicable law or to provide access to any premises from which a licensed profession or occupation is conducted. Included within this paragraph shall be the failure to respond to any demand for statement or report under oath, the failure to permit the examination of any goods, ware or item used in the rendition of the professional or occupational service and the failure to grant access to records, books or other documents utilized in the practice of the occupation or profession;
5) The failure to answer any question pertinent to inquiry made pursuant to N.J.S.A. 45:1-18 or other applicable law unless the response to said question is subject to a bona fide claim of privilege;
6) The failure to make proper and timely response by way of appearance or production of documents to any subpoena issued pursuant to N.J.S.A. 45:1-18 or as may otherwise be provided by law;

A full online reference is at this URL:
http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/Documents/legal/Licensee_Duty_to_Cooperate.pdf

OPRA directs that "[a] public record under the common law is one required by law to be kept, or necessary to be kept in the discharge of a duty imposed by law, or directed by law to serve as a memorial and evidence of something written, said, or done, or a written memorial made by a public officer authorized to perform that function, or a writing filed in a public office." It explicitly says that "a “government record” means any record that has been made, maintained, or kept on file in the course of official business, or that has been received in the course of official business." [From "A Citizen’s Guide to the Open Public Records Act" - Second Edition – July 2011] It is clear that this public cemetery is required to keep these sorts of records under the law.

Furthermore, records such as these are not explicitly listed among OPRA's twenty-four exemptions. While OPRA does prohibit the release of specific types of personally identifying information, that prohibition is limited to Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, driver's licenses, and unlisted phone numbers. None of these types of information would be in the burial or plot transfer records we seek, especially considering that many of these records were generated more than a century (or two!) ago. The names and dates of death or burial of Revolutionary War veterans, for example, should not have any reason to be withheld from the public or from their direct descendants, as is currently the case.

Therefore, we believe these records should be available to us under OPRA. Please provide to us full copies of all of the burial, internment, cremation, disinterment, and plot ownership transfer records. As the Rahway Public Cemetery is many centuries old, these records may currently be in multiple formats: loose papers, index cards, bound books, microfilms, and/or possibly a text database for more recent records. We would prefer to have digital scans or digital photographs of all of the records, unless some of them are already in text database format, in which case we would prefer to receive the raw database file (i.e. CSV or SQL format, etc.) for those records. If there are microfilms in decent condition, we would like those to be digitized. We are willing to reimburse all the costs for the production and duplication of these records, but please inform us of those costs before fulfilling our request.

The requested documents will be made available to the general public, and this request is not being made for commercial purposes.

We look forward to your timely response in the next seven business days, as required by the law. Please be advised that if this request is denied we will be filing a Denial of Access complaint with the New Jersey Government Records Council (GRC). If you have any questions or concerns about this OPRA request, please feel free to contact us at 917-572-3834.

sincerely,

Brooke Schreier Ganz
President and Founder of Reclaim The Records
https://www.ReclaimTheRecords.org/

From: Department of Law and Public Safety, Division of Consumer Affairs

Dear Ms. Ganz:

Attached please find the receipts in response to your OPRA request submitted to the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs – OPRA requests numbers C130387, C130389 & C130390.

Should you require further assistance, feel free to contact our office at 973-424-8111.

Lucie Moreira
Records Manager
OPRA & Records Management Unit
NJ Division of Consumer Affairs
973-424-8194

CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE The information contained in this communication from the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General is privileged and confidential and is intended for the sole use of the persons or entities who are the addressees. If you are not an intended recipient of this e-mail, the dissemination, distribution, copying or use of the information it contains is strictly prohibited. If you have received this communication in error, please immediately contact the Office of the Attorney General at (609) 292-4925 to arrange for the return of this information.

Files

pages

Close