New York Civil Rights Law Section 50-A acts as a bar to Legal Aid's Freedom of Information Law R
New York's Freedom of Information Law (contained within the Public Officers Law) allows entities and persons the right to access agency records that do not fall within an enumerated exemption. At issue here is New York State Civil Rights Law Section 50-a which, ultimately, acts as a bar to records that were sought and received for quite sometime.
The Supreme Court gives an eloquent summary of what was sought and the regular practice before denying The Legal Aid Society's petition: "Petitioner brings this article 78 proceeding seeking an order directing the New York City Police Department (NYPD) to produce documents containing NYPD administrative summaries. The NYPD posted this information publicly for approximately forty years in compliance with Public Officers Law Sections 86-90, the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). Respondent opposes the petition, arguing that New York State Civil Rights Law Section 50-a (50-a) bars requests for the documents..." The records, Orders, sought were characterized as "are merely summaries listing employment updates and outcomes of officer disciplinary proceedings that are not contained in the officers' files."
The Court noted the precedent, New York Civil Liberties Union v. New York City Police Dep't, No. 102436/2012, 2017 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 2448 (1st Dep't March 30, 2017) that the petitioner quotes in supporting her position that such records are not personnel records and would not endanger the life or safety of any person. New York Civil Rights Law Section 50-a is a bit of a misnomer. Rather than allow the public to evaluate certain personnel records, such as misconduct allegations or findings of wrongdoing by police officers, the law acts as a shield to protect the law enforcement officer's personal information:
All personnel records used to evaluate performance toward continued employment or promotion, under the control of any police agency or department of the state or any political subdivision thereof including authorities or agencies maintaining police forces of individuals defined as police officers in section 1.20 of the criminal procedure law and such personnel records under the control of a sheriff's department or a department of correction of individuals employed as correction officers and such personnel records under the control of a paid fire department or force of individuals employed as firefighters or firefighter/paramedics and such personnel records under the control of the department of corrections and community supervision for individuals defined as peace officers pursuant to subdivisions twenty-three and twenty-three-a of section 2.10 of the criminal procedure law and such personnel records under the control of a probation department for individuals defined as peace officers pursuant to subdivision twenty-four of section 2.10 of the criminal procedure law shall be considered confidential and not subject to inspection or review without the express written consent of such police officer, firefighter, firefighter/paramedic, correction officer or peace officer within the department of corrections and community supervision or probation department except as may be mandated by lawful court order.
The Court held that "the First Department found that by its nature this information carries the potential for exploitation," which possibility was enough for the Court to deny the petition.
The New York Freedom of Information Law is a statutory civil rights and the primary vehicle for public access to agency records. Should you or an organization of which you represent wish to hire an attorney to obtain access to governmental agency records, call the Law Offices of Cory H. Morris, 631-450-2515.
The case is In the Matter of Justine Luongo v. Records Access Appeals Officer, New York City Police Department, Docket No. 160232/2016 (NY Sup. Ct. May 24, 2017).