March 3, 1997
Mr. Dominick Raimo
Elmira Corr. Facility
PO Box 500
Elmira, NY 14902-0500
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 Mr. Raimo:
I have received your letter of January 30 and the correspondence attached to it. You complained that the Department of Correctional Services has "ignored" both your initial request for certain records and the appeal that followed. Consequently, you have sought the "intercession" of this office. The records sought involve "transfer history" and "Program history data".
In this regard, the Committee on Open Government is authorized to provide information concerning the Freedom of Information Law. The Committee is not empowered to enforce the Freedom of Information Law or compel an agency to grant or deny access to records. Nevertheless, in an effort to provide guidance, I offer the following comments.
First, the Freedom of Information Law provides direction concerning the time and manner in which agencies must respond to requests and appeals. 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)].
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 (i) of the Law. While I am unfamiliar with "program history data", it appears that the records sought, to the extent that they exist, should be made available. I note that §5.21(a) of the regulations promulgated by the Department of Correctional Services states that:
"information from the personal history portion of an inmate record shall be made available to the inmate, a representative of his estate, his legal guardian or committee, or his attorney."
Further, §5.09(i) provides that:
"Personal history means records consisting of inmate name, age, birthdate, birthplace, city of previous residence, physical description, occupation, correctional facilities in which the inmate has been incarcerated, commitment information and departmental actions regarding confinement and release."
In an effort to enhance compliance, a copy of this response will be forwarded to Counsel to the Department.
I hope that I have been of some assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Anthony J. Annucci