FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-05-00


October 5, 2000

Mr. Mark R. Henne
County Manager
Narrows, VA

The staff of the Freedom of Information Advisory Council is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff opinion is based solely on the information presented in our telephone conversation of October 5, 2000.

Dear Mr. Henne:

This will confirm our telephone conversation of this date concerning the release of business license tax information. Specifically, you ask for a written advisory opinion whether, under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), records in the possession of the treasurer related to local license taxes assessed in accordance with Chapter 37 (§ 58.1-3700 et seq.) of Title 58.1 may be released.

Generally, FOIA requires that all public records be open to inspection and copying by any citizen of the Commonwealth, except where FOIA provides an exemption from its application or where such disclosure is prohibited by law (see §§ 2.1-342 and 2.1-342.01).

Subdivision A2 of § 2.1-342.01 provides an exemption for state income, business, and estate tax returns, personal property tax returns, scholastic and confidential records held pursuant to § 58.1-3.

Section 58.1-3 provides, in part:

A. Except in accordance with a proper judicial order or as otherwise provided by law, the Tax Commissioner or agent, clerk, commissioner of the revenue, treasurer, or any other state or local tax or revenue officer or employee, or any former officer or employee of any of the aforementioned offices shall not divulge any information acquired by him in the performance of his duties with respect to the transactions, property, including personal property, income or business of any person, firm or corporation. Such prohibition specifically includes any copy of a federal return or federal return information required by Virginia law to be attached to or included in the Virginia return. Any person violating the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor. The provisions of this subsection shall not be applicable, however, to:

1. Matters required by law to be entered on any public assessment roll or book;

2. Acts performed or words spoken or published in the line of duty under the law;

B. Nothing contained in this section shall be construed to prohibit the publication of statistics so classified as to prevent the identification of particular reports or returns and the items thereof or the publication of delinquent lists showing the names of taxpayers who are currently delinquent, together with any relevant information which in the opinion of the Department may assist in the collection of such delinquent taxes. This section shall not be construed to prohibit a local tax official from disclosing whether a person, firm or corporation is licensed to do business in that locality and divulging, upon written request, the name and address of any person, firm or corporation transacting business under a fictitious name. Additionally, notwithstanding any other provision of law, the commissioner of revenue is authorized to provide, upon written request stating the reason for such request, the Tax Commissioner with information obtained from local tax returns and other information pertaining to the income, sales and property of any person, firm or corporation licensed to do business in that locality. (Emphasis added)

As I read the above sections, the release of local license taxes assessed against any person, firm or corporation is prohibited by § 58.1-3 and therefore is not required to be made public under FOIA. A citizen seeking disclosure of information concerning an identified taxpayer under FOIA is not entitled to that information unless he can establish that it falls within a stated exception in § 58.1-3.[fn1]

Thank you for contacting this office. I hope that I have been of assistance.


1. National Rural Utilities v. Greenlief, No. 12457, ltr. Op. At 2 (Fairfax Co. Cir. Ct. Feb. 24, 1992), 1981-82 Op. Atty. Gen. Va. 377, 1989 Op. Atty. Gen. Va. 304, 1992 Op. Atty. Gen. Va. 157.