September 30, 1996
Ms. Betty Robnette
76 E. Utica Street
Buffalo, NY 14209
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. Robnette:
I have received your recent, undated letter, which reached this office on September 16. You have sought assistance in obtaining your birth records as well as those involving a court case litigated near the time of your birth.
In this regard, the primary function of this office involves providing advice concerning the Freedom of Information Law. Although that statute does not govern rights of access to records in the circumstance that you described, I offer the following comments and suggestions.
First, you did not indicate whether you might have been adopted. If you were adopted, records of birth, including those pertaining to the adoption, would be confidential. It is noted that the first ground for denial of access to records in the Freedom of Information Law, §87(2)(a), pertains to records that "are specifically exempted from disclosure by state or federal statute." One such statute is §114 of the Domestic Relations Law, which generally requires that adoption records be sealed and confidential. As such, the Freedom of Information Law would not be applicable to those records. Section 114 states in part that:
"No person, including the attorney for the adoptive parents shall disclose the surname of the child directly or indirectly to the adoptive parents except upon order of the court. No person shall be allowed access to such sealed records and order and any index thereof except upon an order of a judge or surrogate of the court in which the order was made or of a justice of the supreme court. No order for disclosure or access and inspection shall be granted except on good cause shown and on due notice to the adoptive parents and to such additional persons as the court may direct."
Based on the foregoing, only a court by means of an order could unseal records relating to an adoption.
Second, assuming that there was no adoption, access to certain records would be governed by §4173 of the Public Health Law. As a person over the age eighteen, you would have a right of access to birth records from either the local registrar of vital records or the Bureau of Vital Records at the State Department of Health. I note that under §4173 either a registrar or the Department of Health may charge fees for search and duplication of birth records.
Lastly, although the Freedom of Information Law does not include the courts or court records within its coverage, many court records are available under other provisions of law (see e.g., Judiciary Law, §255). If you are aware of the court in which the proceeding occurred, it is suggested that you request the records of the proceeding from the clerk of the court.
I hope that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman