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FOIL Exemption Applies to Civil and Criminal Law Enforcement

by David Reutters

A New York appellate court held that the New York State Education Department correctly redacted or exempted public records compiled for auditing special education costs because they were compiled for civil law enforcement purposes. The court also held that a request for award of attorney fees was improperly denied where The department voluntarily disclosed a portion of the requested documents after the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) petition was filed. The denial was reversed for further review by a New York supreme court.

In 2013, after discovery of a widespread fraud in billing for special education services for disabled pre-schoolers, the legislature amended Education Law Section 4410 to allow the recovery of overpayments and disallowed costs to require The department to establish auditing guidelines and to require each municipality to submit audit plans that comply with the set guidelines.

Pamela Madeiros submitted a FOIL request for review of any audit standards and plans associated with the amended Section 4410 (11) (c) and 8 NYCRR 200.18. The Department asserted that the records were exempt from disclosure, per Public Officers Law S 87 (2) (e), because they were compiled for law enforcement purposes and disclosure would interfere with investigations and compliance with the provisions.

Madeiros appealed the administrative denial to a New York supreme court. Before The department responded to the petition, it disclosed 55 pages of partially redacted documents and then moved to dismiss the petition.

Despite an in-camera review of requested documents and an award of an additional two redacted pages, the court held that redaction and excemptionwere correctly applied. It clarified that “law enforcement purposes” include civil law enforcement as well as criminal. The court concluded that Madeiros did not substantially prevail in the case and was not entitled to attorney fees.

Madeiros appealed to the appellate court, which held that the decision that the records were compiled for “civil law enforcement” and was properly redacted or exempted. However, the court held that where the requested documents were not disclosed until after Madeiros filed an appeal of the initial denial, the subsequent disclosure of a total 59 pages was substantial, and the request for the award of attorney fees must be re-addressed by the supreme court with consideration of correct law and facts.

See: Madeiros v. NY State Education Department, 2017 NY Slip.Op. 07209, AD3d (Oct. 17, 2017). 

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Related legal case

Madeiros v. NY State Education Department