February 13, 2006
FROM: Robert J. Freeman, Executive Director
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the facts presented in your correspondence.
I have received your letter in which you asked whether it is "appropriate for the Town of Lysander to have required [you] to show a drivers license and state the purpose of [your] request for documents on a sworn and notarized form..."
In short, in my opinion, the requirements to which you referred are inappropriate and would be found by a court to be inconsistent with law.
When records are accessible under the Freedom of Information Law, it has been held that they should be made equally available to any person, regardless of one's status, interest or the intended use of the records [see Burke v. Yudelson, 368 NYS 2d 779, aff'd 51 AD 2d 673, 378 NYS 2d 165 (1976)]. Moreover, the Court of Appeals, the State's highest court, has held that:
"FOIL does not require that the party requesting records make any showing of need, good faith or legitimate purpose; while its purpose may be to shed light on government decision-making, its ambit is not confined to records actually used in the decision-making process. (Matter of Westchester Rockland Newspapers v. Kimball, 50 NY2d 575, 581.) Full disclosure by public agencies is, under FOIL, a public right and in the public interest, irrespective of the status or need of the person making the request" [Farbman v. New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, 62 NY 2d 75, 80 (1984)].
Farbman pertained to a situation in which a person involved in litigation against an agency requested records from that agency under the Freedom of Information Law. In brief, it was found that one's status as a litigant had no effect upon that person's right as a member of the public when using the Freedom of Information Law, irrespective of the intended use of the records. Similarly, unless there is a basis for withholding records in accordance with the grounds for denial appearing in §87(2), in my opinion, the residence of an applicant or use of the records are irrelevant.
In sum, insofar as the Town maintains records in which you are interested, I believe that they are subject to rights of access, irrespective of your intended use of the records, your identity or your address. That being so, I do not believe that the Town may condition disclosure of its records upon your showing proof of identity, your address or an indication of the purpose of your request.
I hope that I have been of assistance.
cc: Town Board
Hon. Gale J. Grice, Town Clerk