The Virginia FOIA Opinion Archive

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Hawkins v. Town of South Hill (circuit court)

Mecklenburg County Circuit Court Judge J. William Watson Jr. reviewed seven sets of documents South Hill said were exempt from release as personnel records and concluded that some were and some weren't. In the process, the judge reviewed past cases and FOIA's legislative history to determine that "personnel information" should be defined as "all information necessarily compiled and held by an employer, concerning an identifiable employee, which information directly relates to the commencement, continuation or termination of the employment relationship.”

Webster v. Filler-Corn

District court judge imposes civil penalties on Speaker of the House for her inaccurate response to a FOIA request that a requested record did not exist.

Sawyers v. Prince William County School Board

Direct messages sent by school superintendent through Twitter's direct message platform are "correspondence" that can be withheld under the "working papers and correspondence" exemption of FOIA, 2.2-3705.7(2).

Attorney General opinion 20-043

Local governments do not have authority under §15.2-1413, which allows the adoption of modifications to essential functions during an  emergency, to relax the deadlines by which to respond to FOIA requests.

Attorney General Opinion 20-036

The Suffolk City School Board policy, which limits board members' abilitty to seek records under FOIA, "should not impede access to public records by citizens of the Commonwelath."

Harki v. Department of Corrections (2020)

A Norfolk Circuit Court Judge ruled April 15, 2020, that the Virginia Department of Corrections willfully and knowingly failed to provide a Virginian-Pilot reporter with documents he requested within the 5-day response time mandated by FOIA, nor did the VDOC ask for a 7-day extension. After repeated back and forth conversations between the reporter and the VDOC, the reporter's request was "reasonably specific," as required by FOIA, and the VDOC's attempt to argue otherwise is "disingenuous," the court wrote. Citing Hurst v. City of Norfolk, the court also ruled that even if VDOC had made a request for further specificity, that would not have tolled the 5-day response time limit.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-09-19

The fundraising exemption, subdivision A 7 of § 2.2-3705.4, allows a public body to withhold certain information maintained in connection with fundraising activities by or for a public institution of higher education. The identity of a donor may only be withheld under the fundraising exemption if the donor has requested anonymity in connection with or as a condition of making a pledge or donation. Only a court has the authority to review records in camera and render a legally binding decision on whether redactions were properly made.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-08-19

The exemption in subdivision 13 of § 2.2-3705.1 applies to certain account numbers and routing information, but does not address the names of credit card holders. The expedited hearing provisions in § 2.2-3713 apply regardless of whether a petition is filed in general district court or circuit court. Only a court may rule on evidentiary matters.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-07-19

The exemption in subdivision 32 of § 2.2-3705.6 of FOIA applies to “information related to a grant application, or accompanying a grant application” that is submitted to the Department of Housing and Community Development as described in the exemption. Challenges to applications submitted as part of the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative program are not exempt from disclosure under this exemption as they are not submitted by the applicant.
 

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-06-19

Failure to provide notice and take minutes of public meetings as required by FOIA are violations of FOIA. Only a court may rule on whether any particular notice is reasonable under the circumstance for a special, emergency, or continued meeting. Once posted, notices should not be removed before the meeting occurs.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-05-19

Charges for public records are limited to reasonable charges not to exceed the public body's actual costs, but the question of whether a particular charge is reasonable may be decided only by a court.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-04-19

Section 54.1-108 provides that certain license applications and scoring records, among other records, are not subject to disclosure under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. This opinion considers a dispute regarding the redaction of applicant names from records related to the application and scoring process.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-03-19

Records concerning identifiable individual students, including individual students' test scores, are scholastic records that are exempt from mandatory disclosure under FOIA. The redaction of a student's name and other personal information does not necessarily make a scholastic record a nonexempt record that must be disclosed under FOIA as the record may still contain information about the specific individual, whether identified by name or not.

FOI Advisory Council opinion AO-01-19

Access to health records is addressed by FOIA and other specific laws outside of FOIA. Where the laws differ, the more specific provisions are controlling.

Bergano v. City of Virginia Beach

The Virginia Supreme Court unanimously ruled the City of Virginia Beach erred by redacting all entries on its bill from an outside law firm that was representing the city in an eminent domain case against a city dentist.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-06-18

It is possible that electronic mail message headers could include legal advice and information protected by the attorney-client privilege exempt from mandatory disclosure pursuant to subsection 2 of § 2.2-3705.2. That exemption includes advice from legal counsel to officers of a public body as well as employees of the public body, and does not place a limit on how many officers or employees of the public body may receive the advice at one time. It is also possible that electronic mail message headers could include information describing the design, function, operation, or access control features of a security system that would be exempt from mandatory disclosure pursuant to subsection 2 of § 2.2-3405.1. 
 

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-07-18

Application forms for medical cannabis pharmaceutical processor permits that are maintained by the Board of Pharmacy are not subject to the disclosure requirements of FOIA pursuant to § 54.1-108.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-05-18

A custodian may require a requester of public records to provide his legal name and address and may attempt to verify that a requester is a citizen of the Commonwealth, a representative of newspapers and magazines with circulation in the Commonwealth, or a representative of radio and television stations broadcasting in or into the Commonwealth. Requiring a specific form of identification without an alternative for those who do not have such identification, however, restricts access to information promised by the policy of FOIA. Public bodies must make a proper motion to enter into each closed meeting, even if there are multiple closed meetings within the same open meeting.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-04-18

Discusses general open meetings requirements of public bodies and their committees as well as obligations of public bodies in response to a request for public records. A public body is not required to record open meetings itself but must afford the public the opportunity to record the meetings. A committee of a public body is not required to record minutes of an open meeting if the committee membership is comprised of less than a majority of the public body membership. While a public body must post a link on its website to any routine exemption policy for records, there is no requirement as to how that policy is formed or that the policy be contained in a physical policy document. A public body must state in writing the reasons why public records are not provided in response to a request for public records.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-08-18

Discusses the use of the contract negotiations and economic development records exemptions. FOIA allows a records custodian to disclose exempt records in his discretion. Also discuss the working papers exemption as it applies to Cabinet Secretaries.

Batterson v. Voorhees

Batterson v. Voorhees, Powhatan County Judge Paul W. Cella

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-01-18

FOIA provides that public records must be disclosed except as otherwise specifically provided by law. Tax code provisions such as § 58.1-3 are "as otherwise specifically provided by law." The statutory authority of this office is limited to FOIA matters.

Hurst v. City of Norfolk (circuit court)

In a case brought against the City of Norfolk alleging violations of FOIA's response times and fee estimates, a Norfolk Circuit Court gives much deference to FOIA Council prior opinions and finds:

Virginia Education Association v Davison

A unanimous Supreme Court rules a Loudoun County parent is not entitled to student growth percentile data for certain Loudoun County Public School students under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

Davison v. Dunnavant (circuit court)

Henrico circuit judge rules a senator can be sued for a FOIA violation in her individual capacity and that Facebook posts can be public records. But, the Facebook posts in this case are deemed not about public business and so did not need to be disclosed.

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