FOIA Advisor

Q&A: Museums in New York

Q&A (2015-16)Allan BlutsteinComment

Q. Are New York State chartered museums exempt from FOIA requests?

A. Whether New York's Freedom on Information Law ("FOIL") applies to an incorporated (i.e., chartered) museum depends upon the degree of control exercised by government officials.  For example, in 2005,  the Appellate Division affirmed a New York County Supreme Court case in which the court determined that the Metropolitan Museum of Art was outside FOIL's  coverage.  In considering its status in relation to that statute, the court found that:

the Museum is a not-for-profit educational corporation controlled by a Board of Trustees consisting of 40 self-elected individuals.  The City retains no authority to hire or fire the Museum’s Director or President, and no City representatives sit on the Executive Committee, although five of seven ex-officio Trustees are City officials.  Moreover, the Museum’s operating and capital budgets are primarily privately funded, and its budgets are not subject to City approval or public hearings.

Since, as the Supreme Court correctly held, the Museum is not controlled by municipal officials, there is no danger that they can act through the Museum in order to shield their actions from public scrutiny, and FOIL’s overriding purpose of promoting open and accessible government... a hallmark of a free society (Matter of Russo v. Nassau County Community College, 81 NY2d 690, 697, 603 NYS2d 294 [1993]), is not implicated [Metropolitan Museum Historic District v. DeMontebello, 20 AD3d 28 at 37-38, 796 NYS2d 64 at 71 (1st Dept. 2005)].