The Third Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined petitioner was entitled to attorney’s fees associated with his ultimately successful FOIL request for the video of the incident which was the basis for the prison disciplinary proceedings. Attorney’s fees were denied on the ground that the respondent had a reasonable basis for denying the request for the video. However the respondent’s reasons for the denial merely parroted the relevant statutory language for the law-enforcement and safety exemptions, which was deemed insufficient:
In denying petitioner’s initial FOIL request and the subsequent administrative appeal, respondent merely quoted the language from the Public Officers Law. It gave no factual explanation or justification for its blanket denial to release the video footage. Although respondent provided an affirmation by its general counsel in this CPLR article 78 proceeding, the affirmation once again merely quoted the statutory language and failed to explain or demonstrate how the footage was compiled for any law enforcement purposes. In a conclusory and speculative fashion, the affirmation referenced some investigations and adjudications, but failed to provide any factual details or explanation of same. Moreover, the affirmation failed to detail how the release of the video footage would affect or interfere with said investigations and adjudications. “[R]espondent, by merely parroting the statutory language and otherwise failing to provide any adequate sort of harm risked by disclosure, ha[s] failed to meet [its] burden of proving that disclosure of the records would interfere with a pending law enforcement investigation” … .
The affirmation was equally deficient with regard to the safety exemption (see Public Officers Law § 87  [f]), in that it was neither particularized nor specific and failed to articulate an explanation as to how the release of the video footage could potentially endanger or impair the lives of correction officers or their families. Matter of Prisoners’ Legal Servs. of N.Y. v New York State Dept. of Corr. & Community Supervision, 2022 NY Slip Op 07277, Third Dept 12-22-22
Practice Point: In order to deny attorney’s fees after a successful FOIL request, the respondent must demonstrate a reasonable basis for the initial denial of the request. Merely parroting the statutory language for the law-enforcement and safety exemptions is not sufficient. The reasons must be fact-based.