Federal certification records must be disclosed under state law
NEW YORK–In late October, the state high court in Albany unanimously declared that federally mandated certification records kept by a state university biomedical research center were subject to disclosure under state open records laws. In a fact-specific decision, the court held that state open records laws could not be limited by federal record-keeping requirements under the Animal Welfare Act.
Writing for the state Court of Appeals, Associate Judge Howard Levine held that research performed at the State University of New York Health Science Center at Brooklyn was a state governmental function and the center was therefore subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Law.
The court held that although the federal Animal Welfare Act requires the center to keep the certification records and make them available for federal inspection, the center was a state agency and the records must be disclosed. Thus, the fact that the agency maintained the records to comply with a federal mandate was irrelevant, it stated.
Certifications are records which are provided to the center by animal dealers and identify the name and address of the person, pound or shelter from whom the animal was purchased. Animal rights activists sought the records because they were suspicious over the disappearance of pets around the Brooklyn research center and suspected that animals used at the facility may have been stolen, according to an Associated Press report. A Brooklyn appellate court had held that the records need not be disclosed because they were kept to satisfy a federal requirement.
The court noted that its decision turned on the fact that the records were kept in connection with research performed at the center. Precedent “expressly reject[s] any rationale for denying disclosure based on the function or purpose for which an agency’s documents are generated or held,” it stated, adding that it is well established that any applicable exemptions in the state open record law are to be construed narrowly.
The court differentiated the decision from a previous case in which the federally mandated meetings of a Laboratory Animals Use Committee at another state university were exempted from state open meetings provisions. Unlike the decision before the court, federal law and regulations solely controlled the committee’s proceedings in the other decision. (In the matter of Citizens for Alternatives to Animal Labs, Inc. v. Board of Trustees of the State University of New York: Attorney: Elinor Molbegott, East Williston)