Sunday, January 08, 2017

Decision highlights some essentials of the Freedom of Information Law

Decision highlights some essentials of the Freedom of Information Law
PBA of the New York State, Inc., v State of New York, 2016 NY Slip Op 08918, December 29, 2016

In this decision the Appellate Division addressed elements of the State’s Freedom of Information Law [FOIL] and explained:

"Under FOIL, agency records are presumptively available for public inspection, without regard to the need or purpose of the applicant, unless the requested documents fall within one of the exemptions set forth in Public Officers Law §87(2)" (Matter of Aurigemma v New York State Dept. of Taxation & Fin., 128 AD3d 1235, 1236-1237 [2015] [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]; see Matter of Fappiano v New York City Police Dept., 95 NY2d 738, 746 [2001]; Matter of Johnson v Annucci, 138 AD3d 1361, 1362 [2016], lv denied 27 NY3d 911 [2016]). "Exemptions are to be narrowly construed to provide maximum access, and the agency seeking to prevent disclosure carries the burden of demonstrating that the requested material falls squarely within a FOIL exemption" (Matter of Capital Newspapers Div. of Hearst Corp. v Burns, 67 NY2d 562, 566 [1986] [citations omitted]; see Matter of Town of Waterford v New York State Dept. of Envtl. Conservation, 18 NY3d 652, 657 [2012]; Matter of MacKenzie v Seiden, 106 AD3d 1140, 1141 [2013]). Notably, "blanket exemptions for particular types of documents are inimical to FOIL's policy of open government" (Matter of Gould v New York City Police Dept., 89 NY2d 267, 275 [1996]; accord Matter of Thomas v New York City Dept. of Educ., 103 AD3d 495, 498 [2013]; Matter of New York State Defenders Assn. v New York State Police, 87 AD3d 193, 196 [2011]), and the agency must "articulat[e] a particularized and specific justification for denying access" to the requested documents (Matter of Capital Newspapers Div. of Hearst Corp. v Burns, 67 NY2d at 566; accord Matter of West Harlem Bus. Group v Empire State Dev. Corp., 13 NY3d 882, 885 [2009]; Matter of Moody's Corp. & Subsidiaries v New York State Dept. of Taxation and Fin., 141 AD3d 997, 999 [2016]).

“Public Officers Law §87(2)(b) permits an agency to deny access to records, or portions thereof, if disclosure ‘would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.’ The statute does not, however, categorically exempt such documents from disclosure. To the contrary, Public Officers Law §89 expressly permits an agency to delete ‘identifying details’ from records that it makes available to the public (Public Officers Law §89[2][a]), and provides that ‘disclosure shall not be construed to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy . . . when [such] identifying details are deleted’ (Public Officers Law § 89 [2] [c] [i]; see Matter of Scott, Sardano & Pomeranz v Records Access Officer of City of Syracuse, 65 NY2d 294, 298 [1985]; Matter of New York Times Co. v New York State Dept. of Health, 243 AD2d 157, 159 [1998]).”

N.B. The release of some public records is limited by statute [see, for example, Education Law, §1127 - Confidentiality of records; §33.13, Mental Hygiene Law - Clinical records; confidentiality]. Otherwise, an individual is not required to submit a FOIL request as a condition precedent to obtaining public records where access is not barred by statute. A FOIL request is required only in the event the custodian of the public record[s] sought declines to “voluntarily” provide the information or record requested. In such cases the individual or organization is required to file a FOIL request to obtain the information. It should also be noted that there is no bar to providing information pursuant to a FOIL request, or otherwise, that falls within one or more of the exceptions that the custodian could rely upon in denying a FOIL request, in whole or in part, for the information or records demanded.

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

The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

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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