October 22, 2020

Freedom of Information disclosure exemptions involving inter-agency or intra-agency materials

§86.3 of Article 6, "Freedom of Information" [FOIL] of the Public Officers Law, defines the term "Agency" as "any state or municipal department, board, bureau, division, commission, committee, public authority, public corporation, council, office or other governmental entity performing a governmental or proprietary function for the state or any one or more municipalities thereof, except the judiciary or the state legislature."

Riverkeeper, Inc. [Riverkeeper] filed a FOIL request with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey [Authority] seeking copies of certain communications between the Authority and the Federal Aviation Administration [FAA]. 

The Authority declined to provide these materials* and Riverkeeper filed a CPLR Article 78 petition seeking a court order requiring the Authority to provide it with the information it demanded. Supreme Court ordered the Authority to disclose the materials sought in Riverkeeper's FOIL request and the Authority appealed.

Citing Public Officers Law §87[2][g], and Matter of Town of Waterford v New York State Dept. of Envtl. Conservation, 18 NY3d 652, the Appellate Division held that Supreme Court "properly determined that the exemption to FOIL disclosure requirements for inter-agency or intra-agency materials ... does not apply to the communications between the Port Authority and the Federal Aviation Administration [FAA] because the FAA is a federal entity."

The Appellate Division also noted that Supreme Court "properly concluded that the common interest doctrine does not apply in this case."

* The basic concept underlying FOIL is that all government documents and records, other than those having access specifically limited by statute, are available to the public. The custodian of the records or documents requested may elect, but is not required, to withhold those items that are within the ambit of the several exceptions to disclosure permitted by FOIL. In other words, 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.  The release of some public records, however, may be limited by statute such as Education Law §1127 - Confidentiality of records and §33.13 of the Mental Hygiene Law - Confidentiality of clinical records. 

The decision is posted on the Internet at http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2020/2020_05833.htm

 

 

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