Russo v. Nassau Community College was a 1993 case before the State of New York Court of Appeals concerning the application of FOIL to state college and university classroom materials.
This case established a number of precedents:
- New York law does not allow separate functions of a public body to be dissected and considered as distinct when determining if the body in question was in fact subject to FOIL.
- This case established that classroom materials of state colleges and universities are not exempt under the FOIL.
- This case rejected the idea that classroom materials were deliberative in nature and thus exempt under FOIL.
- Nassau County Community College is a chartered college, sponsored by Nassau County but governed by its own board of trustees.
- A Nassau County resident submitted a public records request for film materials used in one of the courses offered by the College.
- The college denied the request, alleging that because the film was a part of course curriculum, it was not in fact a public record as defined by the New York Freedom of Information Law. The college also claimed that copyright issues prevented them from releasing the documents.
- Based on this information, the resident altered his request to request to view the documents and requested all the copyright information about the videos and class materials.
- The college again denied the request, petitioning the New York Committee on Open Government for a ruling as to whether the materials were subject to the law.
- The Committee determined that the documents in question were in fact public records, but that the copyright dilemmas prevented the College from releasing or showing the documents.
- The citizen filed action in superior court seeking to compel the college to release the documents.
- The Superior Court ruled in favor of the citizen but on appeal, the Court of Appeals overturned the decision and ordered the documents exempt.
- The final decision was appealed to the New York Court of Appeals.
Ruling of the court
The trial court ruled in favor of the citizen, ordering the documents released. The court concurred with the decision of the New York Committee on Open Government in determining that the records were in fact public records and went on to reject the college's allegations that the documents were exempt as intra-agency communication and under copyright protection.
The first Court of Appeals overturned the decision, instead deciding from the onset that the documents were not in fact public records. Based on this decision, the court never arrived at the claims outlined by the University.
The State of New York Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the first Court of Appeals and instead returned the ruling to the decision made by the trial court. First, the court rejected the contention that the college was not a public agency with regard to its academic and educational functions. The court felt that nothing in the law or case history served to separate the college as a public institution from the college as an academic institution, and thus the records of professors in their capacity as educators are subject to FOIL. The court went on to establish that the film in question clearly falls within the plain language of the definition of public record. Finally the court rejected the college's claim that the material fell under the deliberative process exemption for intra-agency material, deciding that while a classroom may be a deliberative environment, that environment did not alter the fundamental nature of the documents in question, which are not deliberative in nature but completed products. Based on these decisions, the court overturned the decision of the court of appeals and ordered the documents released.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 Ruling of the Court