April 18, 1995
Mr. John W. Kane
165 West Bush Road
Gloversville, NY 12078
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 Mr. Kane:
I have received your letter of March 17. You have sought an opinion "concerning the Fulton County Economic Development Agency ['FCEDA'] refusing to answer [your] Freedom of Information Law Request dated February 18, 1995 and appeals...dated March 3, 1995".
In my view, the issue is whether the FCEDA is an "agency" required to comply with the Freedom of Information Law. For purposes of that statute, the term "agency" is defined to mean:
"any state or municipal department, board, bureau, division, commission, committee, public authority, public corporation, council, office of other governmental entity performing a governmental or proprietary function for the state or any one or more municipalities thereof, except the judiciary or the state legislature" [§86(3)].
Based on previous inquiries, I believe that the FCEDA is a "local development corporation". If that is so, I point out that specific reference is found in §1411 of the Not-for-Profit Corporation Law to such corporations. The cited provision describes the purpose of local development corporations and states in part that:
"it is hereby found, determined and declared that in carrying out said purposes and in exercising the powers conferred by paragraph (b) such corporations will be performing an essential governmental function."
Therefore, due to its status as a not-for-profit corporation, it is not clear that a local development corporation is a governmental entity; however, it is clear that such a corporation performs a governmental function.
Relevant to your inquiry is a recent decision rendered by the Court of Appeals, the State's highest court, in which it was held that a not-for-profit local development corporation is an "agency" required to comply with the Freedom of Information Law [Buffalo News v. Buffalo Enterprise Development Corporation, 84 NY 2d 488 (1994)]. In so holding; the Court found that:
"The BEDC seeks to squeeze itself out of that broad multipurposed definition by relying principally on Federal precedents interpreting FOIL's counterpart, the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. §552). The BEDC principally pegs its argument for nondisclosure on the feature that an entity qualifies as an 'agency' only if there is substantial governmental control over its daily operations...The Buffalo News counters by arguing that the City of Buffalo is 'inextricably involved in the core planning and execution of the agency's [BEDC] program'; thus the BEDC is a 'governmental entity' performing a governmental function of the City of Buffalo, within the statutory definition.
"The BEDC's purpose is undeniably governmental. It was created exclusively by and for the City of Buffalo to attract investment and stimulate growth in Buffalo's downtown and neighborhoods. As a city development agency, it is required to publicly disclose its annual budget. The budget is subject to a public hearing and is submitted with its annual audited financial statements to the City of Buffalo for review. Moreover, the BEDC describes itself in its financial reports and public brochure as an 'agent' of the City of Buffalo. In sum, the constricted construction urged by appellant BEDC would contradict the expansive public policy dictates underpinning FOIL. Thus, we reject appellant's arguments" (id., 492-493).
Based on the foregoing, if the relationship between the FCEDA and the Fulton County is similar to that of the BEDC and the City of Buffalo, the FCEDA would appear to constitute an "agency" required to comply with the Freedom of Information Law.
In conjunction with such a conclusion, it is noted that the Freedom of Information Law provides direction concerning the time and manner in which agencies must respond to requests. Specifically, §89(3) of the Freedom of Information Law states in part that:
"Each entity subject to the provisions of this article, within five business days of the receipt of a written request for a record reasonably described, shall make such record available to the person requesting it, deny such request in writing or furnish a written acknowledgement of the receipt of such request and a statement of the approximate date when such request will be granted or denied..."
If neither a response to a request nor an acknowledgement of the receipt of a request is given within five business days, or if an agency delays responding for an unreasonable time after it acknowledges that a request has been received, a request may, in my opinion, be considered to have been constructively denied. In such a circumstance, I believe that the denial may be appealed in accordance with §89(4)(a) of the Freedom of Information Law. That provision states in relevant part that:
"...any person denied access to a record may within thirty days appeal in writing such denial to the head, chief executive, or governing body, who shall within ten business days of the receipt of such appeal fully explain in writing to the person requesting the record the reasons for further denial, or provide access to the record sought."
In addition, it has been held that when an appeal is made but a determination is not rendered within ten business days of the receipt of the appeal as required under §89(4)(a) of the Freedom of Information Law, the appellant has exhausted his or her administrative remedies and may initiate a challenge to a constructive denial of access under Article 78 of the Civil Practice Rules [Floyd v. McGuire, 87 AD 2d 388, appeal dismissed 57 NY 2d 774 (1982)].
I hope that I have been of some assistance.
Robert J. Freeman