December 8, 2005
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the facts presented in your correspondence.
We are in receipt of your October 10, 2005 request for an advisory opinion concerning application of the Freedom of Information Law to records reflecting the names of deceased persons in whose names claims have been filed for workers’ compensation benefits.
As you are aware, the Freedom of Information Law is based upon a presumption of access. Stated differently, all records of an agency are available, except to the extent that records or portions thereof fall within one or more grounds for denial appearing in §87(2)(a) through (i) of the Law.
The first ground for denial, §87(2)(a), pertains to records that "are specifically exempted from disclosure by state or federal statute."
From our perspective, Workers’ Compensation Law §110-a precludes the release of the names you have requested. Unlike access to the records described in our correspondence to you in July of this year, this statute prohibits the Workers’ Compensation Board from disclosing "records", except pursuant to court order, and §110-a(1)(b)(i) defines "records" as follows:
"a claim file, a file regarding an injury or complaint for which no claim has been made, and/or any records maintained by the board in electronic databases in which individual claimants or workers are identifiable, or any other information relating to any person who has heretofore or hereafter reported an injury or filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits, including a copy or oral description of a record which is or was in the possession or custody of the board, its officers, members, employees or agents."
In short, the Workers’ Compensation Board is prohibited from providing any records to you in which individual claimants are identifiable.
We hope this helps to clarify your understanding of the matter
Camille S. Jobin-Davis
cc: Jon Sullivan