Court of Appeals Finds Release of Names Exempt From FOIL

The Court of Appeals reversed the Appellate Division and denied access, under the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), to the names of teachers working at a charter school. In Matter of New York State United Teachers v. Brighter Choice Charter School, the Court of Appeals, after noting that charter schools are subject to FOIL, concluded that the release of the names of teachers would be an unwarranted invasion of privacy.

The school had already agreed to release the titles and salaries of teachers but objected to the original request for names and addresses. Subsequently, the Union modified the request and asked only for the names but not the addresses. The Court noted "an entity subject to FOIL may deny access to records that "if disclosed would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy," which, as relevant here, includes the "sale or release of lists of names and addresses if such lists would be used for commercial or fund-raising purposes" (Public Officers Law ยง 89 [2][b][iii])."

After noting that during oral argument the Union's counsel conceded that the names would be used to expand membership and collect dues, the Court concluded the release of names, for what was in effect fund raising purposes, would serve no public purpose. The Court therefore found that the privacy exemption overrides other considerations and "because charter schools must afford employee organizations access under the Education Law, it does not follow that the employee organizations may circumvent the FOIL exemptions in achieving those ends."

Therefore, the Court reversed the Appellate Division and determined, under the circumstances, that the privacy exemption of Public Officers Law precluded the release of the teachers names.

-Steven Silverberg