Perez v. City Univ. of New York was a case before the New York Court of Appeals in 2005 concerning the application of FOIL to advisory boards at state universities.
This case established a number of important precedents:
- Advisory boards who are the sole policy decision makers can be considered public bodies subject to FOIL and the New York Open Meetings Law.
- Secret voting, though permitted by the open meetings law, is not permitted under FOIL due to records requirements for detailed accounts of voting.
- Hostos Community College is one of 19 schools within the City University of New York (CUNY) education system. CUNY is managed by its board of directors, whose meetings are subject to the New York Open Meetings Law according to the Educational Law. CUNY, through its bylaws, has delegated much of its authority relating to students to faculty committees at the various colleges and universities.
- The CUNY board has delegated its responsibility for Hostos to the Hostos Senate, a board composed of elected officials from the various faculties, students and administrative staff. This Senate retains almost exclusive policy control over Hostos, including matters relating to student and faculty policy.
- On May 24, 2001, Chong Kim, a student, was denied entrance to a meeting at which curriculum changes were made by secret ballot.
- On September 6, 2001, Perez was also denied access to one of the meetings of the Executive Committee, a subcommittee of the Hostos Senate.
- Perez and Kim filed suit in supreme court to compel the Senate and its subcommittees to conduct open meetings.
- The trial court ruled in favor of the students, but upon appeal, the first appellate court overturned the decision of the trial court determining that the Senate and its committees are advisory bodies and thus not subject to the FOIL and open meetings laws.
- The Senate appealed the decision.
Ruling of the court
The trial court ruled in favor of the students, determining that the Senate was a public body subject to the sunshine laws.
The first court of appeals overturned the decision, determining that the senate, as an advisory committee, was removed from FOIL.
The New York Court of Appeals overturned the decision of the first court of appeals, returning the decision to the original ruling by the supreme court. The court determined that the College Senate and Executive Committee serve a government function in that it was the sole entity that formed policy for the college. Further, its formation of policy functioned not only in an advisory capacity but in a critical determinative capacity because it held the entire task or proposing policy changes to the CUNY board of directors. The court defended this assertion, quoting the trial court stating, ""the college senate and the executive committee thereof constitute integral components of the governance structure of Hostos Community College. The senate and its executive committee perform functions of both advisory and determinative natures which are essential to the operation and administration of the college." The court went on to outlaw the use of secret voting, despite its lack of mention in the open meetings laws, based upon requirements within the FOIL for public bodies to record detailed voting records of each member of a public body. Based on these two determinations, the court ruled in favor of the students and ordered the records of the meetings in question released and issued an injunction to compel future meetings to remain open to the public.