The Second Department, reversing (modifying) Supreme Court, determined petitioner-reporter’s request for an unredacted telephone directory for employees of the county police department should have been granted because the county did not demonstrate the information was exempt from disclosure. In addition, petitioner should have been awarded attorney’s fees and litigation costs because petitioner had prevailed in the FOIL action. The fact that some of the requested information (names and salaries of police officers, for example) was available on a public website, to which petitioner was referred, did not warrant a finding petitioner had not prevailed:
… Supreme Court improperly, in effect, denied that branch of the petition which was to compel the production of a NCPD [Nassau County Police Department] telephone directory, without redactions, insofar as asserted against the County and the NCPD, as those respondents failed to demonstrate the applicability of an exemption to disclosure warranting redaction of the telephone directory …, which did not contain any personal telephone or cell phone numbers (see Public Officers Law § 89[2-b][b]). * * *
… [T]he petitioner substantially prevailed in this proceeding by obtaining a significant portion of the records and information responsive to the FOIL request after the commencement of the proceeding … . Contrary to the respondents’ contention, the purported public availability of the requested records and information does not preclude a determination that the petitioner substantially prevailed … . Moreover, the record reflects that the respondents did not have a reasonable basis for the initial denial of the petitioner’s FOIL request in its entirety … . Matter of Lane v County of Nassau, 2023 NY Slip Op 06139, Second Dept 11-29-23
Practice Point: Unless the municipality can show the information sought by a FOIL request is exempt from disclosure the information must be disclosed.
Practice Point: The fact that information sought in a FOIL request is available on a public website, to which the petitioner is referred, does not preclude a finding that petitioner prevailed in the FOIL proceeding.