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July 12, 1999

Ms. CherylAnn Armeno, Secretary
Coalition for Junkyard Enforcement
P.O. Box 354
Fleischmanns, NY 12430

The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions.
The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the information presented in your
correspondence, unless otherwise indicated.

Dear Ms. Armeno:

I have received your letter of June 7 in which you referred to a suggestion by the
Mayor of the Village of Fleischmanns that a policy could be adopted "limiting [y]our requests
to two or three documents at a time and [you] would have to make multiple requests to get
all the information that is needed."

In this regard, there is nothing in the Freedom of Information Law that enables an
agency to limit the volume of a valid request for records. To make a valid request, an
applicant may be required to seek records in writing and "reasonably describe" the records
sought in accordance with §89(3) of the Law. In considering that standard, the State's
highest court has found that requested records need not be "specifically designated", that to
meet the standard, the terms of a request must be adequate to enable the agency to locate the
records, and that an agency must "establish that 'the descriptions were insufficient for
purposes of locating and identifying the documents sought'...before denying a FOIL request
for reasons of overbreadth" [Konigsberg v. Coughlin, 68 NY 2d 245, 249 (1986)]. In
Konigsberg, the request involved some 2,300 pages of material.

Similarly, in a case in which the court invalidated a rule established by a village, the
matter involved the validity of a limitation regarding the time permitted to inspect records
established pursuant to regulation. The Court held that the village was required to enable
the public to inspect records during its regular business hours, stating that:

"...to the extent that Regulation 6 has been interpreted as
permitting the Village Clerk to limit the hours during which
public documents can be inspected to a period of time less
than the business hours of the Clerk's office, it is violative of
the Freedom of Information Law..." [Murtha v. Leonard, 620
NYS 2d 101 (1994), 210 AD 2d 411].

In short, while a unit of government has the ability to adopt rules and procedures, they
must be reasonable and consistent with law. As indicated in other correspondence with the
Village, the Freedom of Information Law includes a broad statement of legislative intent,
which indicates in part that agencies are required to make records available "wherever and
whenever feasible" (see §84). In my view, limiting the ability of the public to a small number
of records that could be requested at any one time would be unreasonable and inconsistent
with the language of the Freedom of Information Law and its judicial interpretation.

I hope that I have been of assistance.

Sincerely,

 

Robert J. Freeman
Executive Director

RJF:tt

cc: Hon. Donald Kearney, Mayor