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September 22, 2023

Essentials concerning an agency's denial of a Freedom of Information Law request

The County and its Assessment Review Commission [County] rejected a Freedom of Information Law [FOIL] request for certain records submitted by an individual [Petitioner]. County contended the records demanded were "intra-agency materials" within the meaning of FOIL and thus could be denied as "exempt" pursuant to Public Officers Law §87(2)(g). 

Petitioner initiated a CPLR Article 78 proceeding to compel the production of the records Petitioner sought, contending the records were factual data and not in the nature of an opinion, advice, or recommendation. Supreme Court granted Plaintiff's petition to produce the records demanded and County appealed . 

The Appellate Division affirmed the Supreme Court's ruling, with costs. In sustaining the Supreme Court's ruling the Appellate Division observed:

1. "FOIL imposes a broad duty on government agencies to make their records available to the public" citing Matter of Madeiros v New York State Educ. Dept., 30 NY3d 67, and Matter of Tuckahoe Common Sch. Dist. v Town of Southampton, 179 AD3d 929;

2. Such records court, are "presumptively open for public inspection and copying," unless they fall within an enumerated statutory exemption set out in Public Officers Law §87;

 N.B. There are other statutory exemptions to disclosing government records.*

3. "FOIL does not require that the party requesting records make any showing of need, good faith or legitimate purpose" in support of a FOIL request as the underlying premise is that "the public is vested with an inherent right to know and that official secrecy is anathematic to our form of government";

4. "FOIL's statutory exemptions to disclosure "are to be narrowly interpreted so that the public is granted maximum access to the records of government"; and 

5. It is the agency's burden "to demonstrate that the requested material 'falls squarely within a FOIL exemption".**

Rejecting County's reliance on exemptions authorized by FOIL with respect to the material sought in response to Plaintiff's FOIL application, the Appellate Division held that Supreme Court correctly determined that the information Plaintiff requested constituted "objective information," distinguishable from "opinions, ideas, or advice" and thus Supreme Court properly granted Plaintiff's Article 78 petition to compel County's production of the records Plaintiff requested.

* See, for example, Education Law, §1127 [Confidentiality of records] and §33.13, Mental Hygiene Law [Clinical records; confidentiality].

** See, also; Matter of Madeiros v New York State Educ. Dept., 30 NY3d at 74; and Matter of Baez v Brown, 124 AD3d 881, at 883.

Click HERE to access the Appellate Division's decision posted on the Internet.

 

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