Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Courts are to determine the appropriate balance between personal privacy and public interests in considering the appeal of a denial of a Freedom of Information [FOIL] request


Courts are to determine the appropriate balance between personal privacy and public interests in considering the appeal of a denial of a Freedom of Information [FOIL] request
Thomas v New York City Dept. of Educ., 2013 NY Slip Op 01026, Appellate Division, First Department

Noting that the Legislature declared in enacting Public Officers Law §84, "[t]he people's right to know the process of governmental decision-making and to review the documents and statistics leading to determinations is basic to our society and that access to such information 'should not be thwarted by shrouding it with the cloak of secrecy or confidentiality,'" the Appellate Division rejected the New York City Department of Education General Counsel’s denial of Michael P. Thomas’ administrative appeal challenging the refusal of the Central Record Access Officer [CRAO] to provide him with records demanded in his FOIL request.

The General Counsel had concluded that CRAO's determination denying Thomas’ request fell "well within the bounds" of the “Committee on Open Government's published advisory opinions denying FOIL requests in the context of unsubstantiated complaints, and that redaction of identifying details would not protect the personal privacy of the subject individuals” because Thomas had filed the underlying complaint and therefore knew the identity of the persons even were their names redacted.

The Appellate Division disagreed, holding that under FOIL government records are presumptively available to the public unless they are statutorily exempted by Public Officers Law §87(2) and "Those exemptions are to be narrowly construed, with the burden resting on the agency to demonstrate that the requested material indeed qualifies for exemption" citing Hanig v State of N.Y. Dept. of Motor Vehicles. 79 NY2d 106.

Finding that Thomas’ complaint pertained to certain administrators' performance of their official duties when applying for and using federal funds, the Appellate Division remanded the matter to the lower court “for an in camera inspection of the documents to determine if redaction could strike an appropriate balance between personal privacy and public interests and which material could be properly disclosed.”

In addition, the Appellate Division directed the lower court to determine whether portions of the documents may be exempt from disclosure as intra- or inter-agency records that are not statistical or factual data under Public Officers Law §87[2][g].

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

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Challenging Adverse Personnel Decisions at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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