March 17, 2000
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
I have received your letter of March 4. You indicated that you were informed that
you cannot use an area outside a store that you rented even though it had been used in the
manner you intend in the past, and other properties use their space in that manner. You have
asked town officials "where in the zoning law" any restriction exists and questioned whether
a "FOIL" would help you "in this case to either get the document or be told there is no such
document." You added that you have tried to find "FOIL" request forms in stationary stores
In this regard, I offer the following comments.
First, while an agency, such as a town, may require that a request be made in writing
[see Freedom of Information Law, §89(3)], there is no particular form that must be used. In
short, any request in writing that reasonably describes the record sought should suffice. I
note that a sample letter of request appears in "Your Right to Know", which describes the
Freedom of Information Law and is available through our website under "publications."
Second, from my perspective, a request for a law that may applicable might not be
viewed as a request for a record, but rather an interpretation of law that requires a judgment.
Depending on the nature of the matter, any number of provisions might be applicable, and a
disclosure of some of them, based on one's knowledge, may be incomplete due to an absence
of expertise regarding the content and interpretation of each such law. Further, two people,
even or perhaps especially two attorneys, might differ as to the applicability of a given
provision of law. In contrast, if a request is made, for example, for "section 10 of the Town
Ordinances", no interpretation or judgment is necessary, for sections of the law appear
numerically and can readily be identified. That kind of request, in my opinion would involve
a portion of a record that must be disclosed. Again, a request for laws that might be
applicable is not, in my view, a request for a record as envisioned by the Freedom of
It is suggested that you contact the town clerk for the purpose of either reviewing the
zoning law or seeking an index to or table of contents relating to the zoning law in order that
you might find whether any applicable provision of law exists.
I hope that I have been of assistance.