June 27, 2007
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.
I have received your correspondence and a variety of materials relating to it. Following a denial of access by Suffolk County, you have requested an advisory opinion concerning your right to obtain records indicating the name, last known address, home telephone number, employment address, email address, and civil case numbers “of each child support obligor known to [the] county by way of each and every divorce proceeding, separation of marriage proceeding, child custody proceeding, paternity proceeding and all such similar causes having been processed through [the] county court system and/or other county agencies and/or county entities.”
In this regard, I offer the following comments.
First, you based your request and referred at length to the federal Freedom of Information Act. That statute, however, is applicable only to records maintained by federal agencies; it does not apply to records maintained by entities of state or local government. The statute that generally deals with public access to records of those entities is the New York Freedom of Information Law.
Second, as a general matter, 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 (j) of the Law.
As suggested in the responses to your request, relevant is the initial ground for denial, §87(2)(a), which pertains to records that “are specifically exempted from disclosure by state or federal statute. The statute upon which the County relied in its denial, §136 of the Social Services Law, prohibits the disclosure of records identifiable to applicants for or recipients of public assistance. While I do not believe that §136 is necessarily applicable or pertinent, two other statutes in my view clearly indicate that the records of your interest are exempt from disclosure to the public.
Title 6-A of the Social Services Law is entitled “Establishment of Paternity and Enforcement of Support”, and within Title 6-A is §111-v, entitled “Confidentiality, integrity and security of information.” Subdivision (5) of that provision states that “The safeguards established pursuant to this section shall apply to staff of the department, local social services districts, and any contractor.” Therefore, the requirements of §111-v apply to county departments of social services and other entities involved with child support enforcement. The confidentiality requirements appear in subdivisions (1) and (2), which state in relevant part that:
“1. The department, in consultation with appropriate agencies including but not limited to the New York state office for the prevention of domestic violence, shall by regulation prescribe and implement safeguards on the confidentiality, integrity, accuracy, access, and the use of all confidential information and other data handled or maintained, including data obtained pursuant to section one hundred eleven-o of this article and including such information and data maintained in the automated child support enforcement system. Such information and data shall be maintained in a confidential manner designed to protect the privacy rights of the parties and shall no t be disclosed except for the purpose of, and to the extent necessary to, establish paternity, or establish, modify or enforce an order of support.
2. These safeguards shall include provisions for the following:
(a) Policies restricting access to and sharing of information and data, including:
(1) safeguards against unauthorized use or disclosure of information relating to procedures or actions to establish paternity or to establish or enforce support;
(2) prohibitions against the release of information on the whereabouts of one party to another party against whom an order of protection with respect to the former party has been entered...”
Based on the foregoing, the information of your interest that is maintained by a county department of social services or other entity involved in child support is exempt from disclosure. Moreover, subdivision (4) indicates that a person who discloses that information maybe guilty of a misdemeanor and states that:
“Any person who willfully releases or permits the release of any confidential information obtained pursuant to this title to persons or agencies not authorized by this title or regulations promulgated thereunder to receive it shall be guilty of a class A misdemeanor .”
The other statute of significance pertains to court records. Although the courts are excluded from the coverage of the Freedom of Information Law, most court records are accessible to the public under different provisions of law. However, the kind of records in which you are interested are exempt from disclosure pursuant to §235(1) of the Domestic Relations Law. That provision states that:
“Upon the application of any person to the county clerk or other officer in charge of public records within a county for evidence of the disposition, judgment or order with respect to a matrimonial action, the clerk or other such officer shall issue a ‘certification of disposition’, duly certifying the nature and effect of such disposition, judgment or order and shall in no manner evidence the subject matter of the pleadings, testimony, findings of fact, conclusions of law or judgment of dissolution derived in any such action.”
In sum, based on the statutes cited above, I believe that the records sought could properly have been withheld.
I hope that the foregoing serves to clarify your understanding and that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Rachael C. Anello