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February 16, 1993

Mr. Frederick Patterson
92-B-2591
Mohawk Correctional Facility
6100 School Road 73-B-1
P.O. Box 8451
Rome, N.Y. 13442

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.

Dear Mr. Patterson:

I have received your letter of February 1.

You asked initially "under what statute New York State is
under for the Freedom of Information Act". The statute in
question, the New York Freedom of Information Law, is found in
Public Officers Law, Article 6, sections 84 to 90.

Second, you asked whether you can obtain information from a
sheriff's department concerning the investigation of a police
officer.

In this regard, 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 section 87(2)(a) through (i) of the
Law.

The initial ground for denial, §87(2)(a), pertains to records
that "are specifically exempted from disclosure by state or federal
statute." One such statute is §50-a of the Civil Rights Law. In
brief, that statute provides that personnel records of police and
correction officers that are used to evaluate performance toward
continued employment or promotion are confidential. Further, in
interpreting section 50-a in a case involving grievances made
against correction officers, the Court of Appeals, the state's
highest court, found that:

"Documents pertaining to misconduct or rules
violations by correction officers - which
could well be used in various ways against the
officers - are the very sort of record which,
the legislative history reveals, was intended
to be kept confidential" [Prisoners' Legal
Services v. NYS Department of Correctional
Services, 73 NY 2d 26, 538 NYS 2d 190, 191
(1988)].

The Court also found that the purpose of section 50-a "was to
prevent release of sensitive personnel records that could be used
in litigation for the purposes of harassing or embarrassing
correction officers" (id. 193). Since §50-a of the Civil Rights
Law also pertains to police officers, it appears that it would
serve as a basis for denial in the context of the information
provided in your letter.

Lastly, you asked how your wife can obtain copies of receipts
for payment at a motel. Her I point out that the Freedom of
Information Law applies only to records maintained by governmental
entities. It does not apply to records kept by motels or other
commercial establishments. Therefore, while the management of a
motel could choose to provide copies of receipts, there would be no
obligation to do so under the Freedom of Information Law.

I hope that I have been of some assistance.

Sincerely,

 

Robert J. Freeman
Executive Director

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