New York's Highest Court Admonishes Department of Education for Refusing to Comply with FOIL Request
Rebecca L. Tsai | Bloomberg Law
Petitioner, the Schenectady County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc., sought the names and addresses of veterinarians who were licensed by the state’s Department of Education. When the Department indicated that it would not provide street addresses, petitioner inquired about obtaining business addresses instead. The Department responded that it did not have business addresses for all the licensees. Petitioner then filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request seeking the same information, but, once again, the Department refused to provide street addresses, stating that it was “unable to distinguish a licensee’s business address from a residential address” due to the way its files were maintained. Petitioner subsequently commenced the instant proceeding, seeking only a photocopy of the list maintained by the Department. The Supreme Court dismissed the petition, but the Appellate Division reversed. The Department then appealed as of right to the New York Court of Appeals under CPLR 601(a).
While recognizing that “FOIL generally does not require an agency to create a new record,” the Court stated that the Department should have simply redacted its existing list of addresses. In the Court’s view, it was “obvious . . . that, if the Department does not want to supply home addresses, it should simply delete them from the list.” Given that there were only 72 licensed veterinarians in the county, the Court commented that sorting through the list to delete any personal addresses “should not be a burdensome task.” Affirming the Appellate Division’s decision, the Court expressed that it was “at a loss to understand why this case has been litigated” and cautioned that the Department should “generally comply with their FOIL obligations in a more efficient way.”
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