May 28, 1996
Ms. Frances J. Thompson
4525 Henry Hudson Parkway
Bronx, NY 10471
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.
Dear Ms. Thompson:
I have received your letter of May 10 in which you requested an advisory opinion concerning a response to a request under the Freedom of Information Law.
Based upon the correspondence, you requested a variety of records from the New York City Department of Law. Insofar as the records exist, you were informed that they would be available for inspection or for copying at the rate of $.25 per page. Due to the volume of the materials, it was suggested that you might want to review the documents at the offices of the Law Department. However, you were also told that you "must respond within ten days to arrange for either an appointment or for payment of the copies, otherwise your request will be deemed withdrawn." You wrote that you "beg to differ" with that response.
In my opinion, when an agency determines that it maintains requested records and has retrieved the records sought, it is reasonable for the agency to indicate that the applicant must respond in some manner as to his or her preference, schedule, or desire to pay a fee for copies within a reasonable time. Situations have arisen in which applicants have requested records, an agency has retrieved them, and the applicants have failed to either review the records or pay fees for copies. From my perspective, an agency is not required to keep on hand requested records interminably, and it has been advised that an agency may inform an applicant that he or she may inspect records or pay for copies of records within a reasonable time, and that failing to receive a response from the applicant, the request will be deemed withdrawn by a date certain. Consequently, in view of the response by the Department of Law and the options made available to you, i.e., to arrange "either an appointment or the payment of the copies" within ten days by contacting a particular individual who is identified by name and phone number, I believe that the Department acted reasonably.
I hope that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Michael D. Sarner