The Appellate Division of Supreme Court in Manhattan—in a three-sentence opinion unvarnished by analysis—has overturned decades of precedent and affirmed a lower-court ruling allowing the New York City Police Pension Fund to keep secret the names of retired officers receiving pension benefits.
The Empire Center’s news release follows.
The Empire Center for New York State Policy says it will ask the state’s highest court to review an appellate decision that would, for the first time in New York’s history, restrict public access to the identities of public pension recipients.
In a unanimous decision, the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court in Manhattan today denied the Empire Center’s appeal of a lower court decision in favor of the New York City Police Pension Fund, which had refused to comply with the Empire Center’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request for a list of the fund’s pension recipients.
“If allowed to stand, this decision will be a massive blow to open government and transparency in New York,” said Timothy Hoefer, director of the Empire Center.
“Given mounting public concern over public pensions, this ruling couldn’t come at a worse time.” Hoefer added.“As taxpayer costs for public pensions continue to skyrocket, the Appellate Division is reversing decades of precedent by saying that taxpayers have no right to know who is collecting pension benefits.”
The Albany-based Empire Center, a non-partisan, independent think tank, had sought the police pension information for inclusion in a searchable online database at its transparency website, www.seethroughny.net. Such information had been shared by all of the pension funds in the past.However, since the December lower court ruling, other city pension funds have also begun to restrict access to their pensioners’ identities, Hoefer said.
Despite the serious and significant legal issues raised by the Empire Center case, the Appellate Division’s decision was just three sentences long.It cited a 1983 Court of Appeals opinion in Matter of New York Veteran Police Assn., a case involving the city pension fund’s denial of a FOIL request from a non-profit organization that was seeking access to both the names and addresses of retired city police officers.Although the Empire Center was requesting names only, not addresses, the Appellate Division said the Center had offered “no persuasive argument distinguishing its FOIL request from that in Matter of New York Veteran Police Assn.”
“We think the difference between a FOIL request for names alone and a request for both names and addresses is crystal clear, and we underscored that point in our legal briefs and argument before the court,” Hoefer said.“Like public payrolls, the names of individuals receiving benefits from taxpayer-backed pension funds have always been treated as public information in New York.Until now.”
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