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Agency May Not Deny FOIL Request Because Some Of The Information May Be Exempt

The New York Court of Appeals held that a Freedom of Information (FOIL) request may not be denied because a portion of the requested information may be exempt from disclosure. In Matter of Schenectady County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc. v. Mills the Court admonished the parties for taking the time of three courts to resolve an issue that could have been addressed by merely redacting some of the information in a data base.

Here the request was for a list of names and business addresses of veterinarians in the County. The County refused to produce the list because it did not differentiate between residential and business addresses and therefore disclosure might constitute an invasion of privacy by releasing some residential addresses.

The Court held:

“an agency responding to a demand under the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) may not withhold a record solely because some of the information in that record may be exempt from disclosure. Where it can do so without unreasonable difficulty, the agency must redact the record to take out the exempt information….In responding to petitioner’s FOIL request, the Department had the choice of producing the existing record in full or removing the information that it did not want to produce and that petitioner did not demand. It cannot refuse to produce the whole record simply because some of it may be exempt from disclosure.”

-Steven Silverberg