FOIA Advisor

Q&A: A New York state of mind

Q&A (2017)Allan BlutsteinComment

Q.  I am seeking e-mails sent or received through a State University of New York account that meet certain specific parameters. Generally speaking, they would include financial arrangements, including research funding, made between a retired employee and employees or representatives of outside corporations or organizations organizations.  Are you aware of any state-level litigation that has addressed this issue?

A.  Not offhand, though the general issue of what constitutes a public or agency records is frequently litigated.  In that respect, the mode of communication is a less significant factor than the content and purpose of the communication.  Thus, business-related emails sent through private accounts are more likely to be considered agency records, and personal emails sent through agency accounts are more likely to be considered non-agency records.  If the retired employee in your scenario was acting on his own behalf rather than on behalf of the university, I do not believe the employee's mere use of a university email account would obligate the university to search for the records you seek.

If you would like to explore this matter further, you might wish to browse the advisory opinions of the New York Department of State Committee on Open Government or contact the committee's director.