Online edition of out-of-state newspaper not “printed and published” in state for purposes of providing legal notice.

Courier-Post v. County of Camden, — A.2d —, 2010 WL 3025108 (N.J.Super.A.D. August 4, 2010)

Like probably every other state, New Jersey has a statute that requires certain notices (like those for sheriff’s sales) to be published in the newspaper. A county government can place such notice in any newspaper that is “printed and published” in New Jersey. N.J.S.A. 2A:61-1

Camden County, New Jersey officials negotiated a favorable rate with the Philadelphia Inquirer to be the paper to publish the county’s legal notices. (That paper is widely read in Camden County, New Jersey.)

The local paper of course objected and filed suit. A New Jersey court of appeals held that the contract to publish legal notices in the Philadelphia Inquirer was improper because the Philadelphia Inquirer did not meet the requirement that the newspaper be “printed and published” in New Jersey.

One of the argumets that the Philadelphia Inquirer made was that its online version was available for viewing and printing in Camden County by internet users there. The court rejected this argument for a number of reasons.

It found it unlikely that a reader would print out an entire edition of an online newspaper.

The court also looked to a notion first articulated by Oliver Wendell Holmes when he was on the Massachusetts Supreme Court: the home office concept. Under this notion, a newspaper is published where it is “given to the world.”

The court went on to say some interesting things about publishing and the physical nexus between a place and its local news outlets. It raised concerns that a reading of the statute allowing out-of-state online newspapers to pass the “printed and published” in New Jersey test, then any newspaper around the globe would count.

Even more intriguingly, the court observed the perils of eliminating “the physical connection between the newspaper’s operation and the community.” That “physical connection is significant because a local newspaper is where people will ordinarily go for local news whether online or at the local newsstand.”

I bet the folks at places like Patch would take issue with that.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Valerie Everett under this Creative Commons license.