Buffalo News v. Buffalo Enterprise Development Corporation was a case before the New York Court of Appeals in 1994 concerning the applicability of open records lawsuits to private corporations functioning in a public capacity.
This case rejected the use of the narrower federal standards for determining if a private corporation is a public body and affirmed the FOIL's broader criteria which only factors in the function of the private agency.
- The Buffalo Enterprise Development Corporation (BEDC) is a private non-profit corporation, incorporated in 1978, which is designed to administer loan programs and promote local economic developments. As a local development corporation, it is performing an essentially governmental function. Funding for the corporation comes primarily from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, but also from state and local governmental entities as well. The BEDC has a constant board of directors including the Mayor, the Community Development Commissioner, the BEDC President (elected by the members which is composed of local businesses and industries), a member of the city council, and two other representatives of other local development corporations.
- In February 1990, Thomas Dolan, a reporter, requested documents under FOIL from BEDC relating to non-performing loans.
- The BEDC granted access to selected records but refused the majority. The newspaper filed suit seeking to compel the release of the information.
- The trial court ruled in favor of the BEDC, denying the petition.
- The first appeals court overturned the trial courts decision.
- The decision of the appeals court was appealed by the BEDC, arguing that, based on the Federal FOIA exemption, they are not included in the definition due to a lack of expansive governmental control of their operations.
Ruling of the court
The trial court dismissed the case, claiming that the BEDC did not fit within the definition of public body found in FOIL.
The Court of Appeals overturned the decision of the trial court, ordering the documents released. The court determined that BEDC was a public body in that it functioned in a clearly public capacity. It remanded the decision for considerations for privacy exemption but determined that the majority of the records should be released. On remand, the trial court exempted only a select few documents, but did not award attorney fees to the newspaper.
The New York Court of Appeals, on appeal, affirmed the decision of the court of appeals and overturned the decision not to award attorney fees. The court first rejected BEDC's argument for the use of the federal FOIA standard, claiming that the federal standard did not match the definitions present in the New York FOIL and would in turn restrict those definitions beyond the intention of the legislature. The court went on to establish that the BEDC fell under FOIL's definition for a public body in that it undeniably performed an essentially governmental function and was thus subject to the act. Based on this decision, the court ordered the documents released and awarded attorney fees in favor of the newspaper.