Michael Grabell v. New York City Police Department

About the Case

In February 2012, ProPublica reporter Michael Grabell filed a New York State Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request seeking records relating to the NYPD’s use of “Z Backscatter Vans.” These unmarked vans are mounted with a powerful device that scatters X-rays to create high-resolution images of the contents of cars and other vehicles, and can allegedly reveal the existence of bombs and other items. The health effects of this technology are largely unknown. While the devices are banned in Europe and U.S. Customs and Border Protection can only use them on unoccupied vehicles, the NYPD is believed to have used the vans surreptitiously around the City. Mr. Grabell sought records relating to the NYPD’s knowledge of the vans’ health effects, rules regulating their use, and the cost to taxpayers. 

After the NYPD denied Mr. Grabell’s requests, MFIA initiated an Article 78 proceeding on his behalf. On December 9, 2014, the court ordered the City to disclose information in response to four of Mr. Grabell’s six requests and to provide a detailed affidavit outlining the searches performed for a fifth request. The court also awarded attorney’s fees. The City appealed the ruling, and the First Department reversed. MFIA is currently seeking review by the New York Court of Appeals.