Empire Center Wins Big in NYC FOIL Case

| Press Releases

The city of New York has been ordered to pay the legal costs and fees to the Empire Center for Public Policy in connection with the Center’s successful effort to obtain city payroll data under the state Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).

The Empire Center filed suit last year in state Supreme Court after the City failed to fully comply with a July 2015 FOIL request for the city’s payroll. Following a lengthy delay, the city refused to provide any salary information for the Police Department’s undercover officers, despite the Empire Center’s willingness to accept salary data excluding the officers’ names. The data was requested for inclusion in SeeThroughNY, the Empire Center’s government transparency website.

In a six-page opinion, Justice Kathyrn E. Freed said the city had failed to demonstrate that the release of aggregate payroll information on undercover officers “would in any way endanger them, impede their work, or give valuable information to those attempting to evade their investigations.”

“Although this information would reveal the size of city law enforcement agencies’ undercover program, that is the only information it would provide,” she added. “Standing alone, it is an insufficient basis on which to implicate this exemption.”

“This case was remarkable because the city refused to answer basic questions about how many people it was paying and what they were making,” said Tim Hoefer, executive director of the Empire Center. “We’re glad Judge Freed recognized that the city’s effort to conceal the size and cost of an entire segment of its payroll was inappropriate, and that she sent such a clear message to other government agencies that would hinder the public’s right to this type of information.”

The case, Empire Center for Public Policy v. NYC Office of Payroll Administration, Index No. 100079/2016, was heard in New York County. The decision can be viewed here.

The Empire Center, based in Albany, is an independent, nonpartisan, not-for-profit think tank dedicated to promoting policies to make New York a better place to live, work and do business.