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August 10, 2020

Processing Freedom of Information Law requests where the materials sought are exempt from disclosure pursuant to state statute


An individual [Plaintiff] submitted a Freedom of Information Law* request  seeking photographs and a copy of medical records held by the District Attorney in connection with Plaintiff's earlier conviction of a crime after a jury trial. 

The District Attorney denied the request and Plaintiff commenced this CPLR Article 78 proceeding seeking a court order compelling the District Attorney to provide the records Plaintiff demanded. Supreme Court denied Plaintiff's petition and Plaintiff appealed.

Citing Karlin v McMahon, 96 NY2d 842, and Public Officers Law §87[2], the Appellate Division affirmed the Supreme Court's ruling, noting that "All government records are presumptively open for public inspection unless specifically exempt from disclosure" by state or federal statute.

In this instance, explained the court, and contrary to Plaintiff's contention, the materials Plaintiff requested are exempt from disclosure pursuant to Civil Rights Law §50-b (1), which provides, in pertinent part, that "[n]o report, paper, picture, photograph, court file or other documents, in the custody or possession of any public officer or employee, which identifies ... a victim [of a sex offense defined by Penal Law Article 130] shall be made available for public inspection."

As such medical records are exempt from disclosure pursuant to state statute, the court concluded that the District Attorney was not obligated to provide the records, even in redacted form, even if such redaction might remove all details which tend to identify the victim.

The Appellate Division then opined that this exemption applies notwithstanding  Plaintiff's argument that he requires this material to support his application for "postconviction relief." 

* Public Officers Law Article 6.

The decision is posted on the Internet at: 
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2020/2020_04078.htm

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