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N.Y. court pumps up presumption of disclosure in records law

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  1. Freedom of Information
New York's highest court strongly bolstered the presumption of disclosure at it applies to the state's public records in a…

New York’s highest court strongly bolstered the presumption of disclosure at it applies to the state’s public records in a ruling overturning an appellate court’s decision earlier this week.

In the case In re Data Tree, LLC v. Romaine, the New York Court of Appeals reversed a lower court ruling that found a data services company had the burden of showing why disclosing the property records it requested from the Suffolk County Clerk’s office was not an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy once the agency explained "in a plausible fashion" that the information may be protected by the law’s privacy exemption.

The Court of Appeals said the burden in such privacy exemption cases lies "squarely" with the agency itself to prove specifically why the exemption applies. In other words, from start to finish, records requestors in New York do not have to show why the information they’ve asked for will not violate privacy rights — that’s solely the government’s responsibility in such cases.

In sending the case back to the lower court for that more complete factual analysis, the high court also noted that Data Tree’s commercial status as a data distribution service was irrelevant to the privacy analysis. The Court of Appeals further decided that the lower court must more thoroughly assess whether there is any reasonable means by which to transfer the data electronically, as Data Tree requested.