New York FOIA procedures
Each state varies slightly in the procedures used to gain access to public documents. This article serves to describe specifically the steps used in New York. To read the history and details of New York’s sunshine laws please see: New York Freedom of Information Law.
Agencies Affected by New York FOIA
Any New York 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 is subject to the Law. Each of those governmental entities is an "agency." The courts are outside its coverage but often must disclose records under other provisions of law. The State Legislature is covered by the Freedom of Information Law, but is treated differently from agencies generally. Private corporations or companies are not subject to the Freedom of Information Law.
How to request public records in New York
The person within an agency from whom records may be obtained is generally designated the records access officer, and is responsible for coordinating the agency's response to FOIL requests.
Contents of Request
The request must be made in writing and "reasonably describe" the record. The request must be for records that currently exist as FOIL does not require the government agency to make a new record.
Purpose and use
The reason a requestor may have for asking for copies of public documents is generally not relevant. In a 1995 case, New York News v. Staten Island, a judge wrote, "FOIL does not require that the party requesting records make any showing of need, good faith or legitimate purpose..." In a 1999 case, Daily Gazette v. Schenectady, a judge wrote, "An agency's inquiry into, or reliance upon the status and motive of a FOIL applicant would be administratively infeasible, and its intrusiveness would conflict with the remedial purposes of FOIL."
However, New York courts have considered the requestor's motives to be relevant in several cases where the motive of the document requestor was to obtain documents relative to pending litigation. In Newsday v. State Department of Transportation, a 2005 case, a judge wrote, "Where a FOIL request for materials subject to [23 U.S.C. § 409] is made by a tort plaintiff, or by someone acting on such a plaintiff's behalf, perhaps denial of the request will be justified".
In Fink v. Lefkowitz, a 1979 case, access to portions of an office manual of the Special Prosecutor for Nursing Homes was denied under FOIL's "law enforcement" exemption, with the judge writing, "the purpose of the Freedom of Information Law is not to enable persons to use agency records to frustrate pending or threatened investigations nor to use that information to construct a defense to impede a prosecution".
FOIL also allows agencies to deny requests for lists if the lists that would be obtained would be used for commercial or fundraising purposes.
FOIL places no restrictions on how public records may be used, once they have been obtained.
Who can request records?
Anyone can make a request regardless of their purpose or use of records. No allowance is made for the government entity to require why you want the records.
- See also: How much do public records cost?
The law states that no more than 25 cents may be charged per page for copies of information. In general, employee's time cannot be charged.
- See also: Request response times by state
The Freedom of Information Act requires that an agency has five business days to grant or deny access in whole or in part, or if more time is needed, to at least acknowledge the receipt of the request in writing. This acknowledgment must include the date by when the request will be accepted or denied. The date must be reasonable under the circumstances of the request, and in most instances, it cannot exceed twenty additional business days. If more than twenty additional business days is needed, the agency must provide an explanation and a date certain within which it will grant or deny the request in whole or in part. That date, too, must be reasonable in consideration of the facts (i.e., the volume or complexity of the request, the need to search for records, or the obligation to review records to determine rights of access).
New York's FOIL is meant to in general favor the people and government openness. Unless specifically listed as an exemption it is assumed to be a public record. There are ten exemptions written into the statue. They can be accessed at the following link which is a great resource for New York and other state requests. If some part of a request is deemed to be exempt from disclosure that information must be redacted. The remaining information is still public.
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