The Virginia FOIA Opinion Archive

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AG letter 05-27-2016

Informal opinion from the AG's office (authored by Opinions Counsel Tim Oksman) says that locally filed conflicts of interest forms cannot be redacted in response to a FOIA request.

Harki v. DCJS

Harki v. Department of Criminal Justice Services: DCJS must turn over database of training records for law enforcement officers. Judge Joseph A. Migliozzi Jr. agrees that they are personnel records, but notes that the department said it would turn the records over (i.e., exercise their discretion to release records that could be withheld) and then reneged. The opinion also rejects the DCJS argument that it didn't own the database and that it really belonged to the individual law enforcement agencies that supplied the data.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-08-15

Body worn and dashboard video recordings made by law enforcement are public records subject to FOIA. The application of exemptions from mandatory disclosure depends on the contents of the video. Duty to redact is in question following Virginia Supreme Court ruling in 2015.

Virginia Department of Corrections v. Surovell

The Virginia Supreme Court rules that a trial court must make its own determination of the property of withholding documents when a security interest is cited, but while doing so, it must accord "substantial weight" to the agency's (in the case, the Virginia Department of Corrections) determinations.

The court also holds that there is no duty to redact a record that is exempt under an exemption that is not limited by the phrases "to the extent" and "portions of."

(On this last point, the majority opinion does not even cite 2.2-3704 where it says one of the four allowable responses is to redact a record if it has exempt material in it.)

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-06-15

A local governing body may not convene a closed meeting in order to discuss the salaries of the members pursuant to the personnel closed meeting exemption.

FOi Advisory Council Opinion AO-05-15

Meeting minutes must include a summary of the discussion on matters proposed, deliberated or decided, and a record of any votes taken. A verbatim transcript is not required. A public body has the discretion to include specific comments made at the meeting or not so long as the minutes include the required summary and record of votes.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-04-15

A public body does not have to create a new record that does not already exist, but may abstract or summarize information under such terms and conditions as agreed between the requester and the public body. Clear and concise communications are critical when making and responding to requests.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-03-15

The Office of Executive Secretary by statute operates and maintains a case management system, the operation and maintenance of the system is the transaction of OES' public business, and therefore OES' case management records are public records subject to FOIA. By operation of law, the respective clerks also remain custodians of those records, and they bear responsibility for maintaining the integrity of those records.  To the extent that OES owns or possesses such data, it is also a custodian of such records and likewise responsible to respond to a request for it under FOIA.

Fitzgerald v. Loudoun County Sheriff's Office

In a proceeding under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, to obtain a copy of a suicide note contained in a criminal investigative file opened by a sheriff’s office under its lawful authority to investigate the unexpected and unattended death of a senior United States Air Force official, the sheriff had the discretion, but not the duty, to disclose documents within this file and eventual closure of the file did not change its character. Nor did the suicide note, standing alone, constitute a compilation subject to disclosure under Code § 15.2-1722(B). The judgment of the circuit court denying a writ of mandamus to compel disclosure of this document is affirmed.

Attorney General Opinion 14-063

"For the foregoing reasons, it is my opinion that local law enforcement agencies must disclose adult arrestee photographs pursuant to a valid FOIA request if they are contained in a database maintained by the local law enforcement agency, regardless of whether the defendant is still incarcerated or has been released, unless disclosing them will jeopardize a felony investigation. However, photographs may not be drawn from the Central Criminal Records Exchange for disclosure at any time to comply with a FOIA request.""For the foregoing reasons, it is my opinion that local law enforcement agencies must disclose adult arrestee photographs pursuant to a valid FOIA request if they are contained in a database maintained by the local law enforcement agency, regardless of whether the defendant is still incarcerated or has been released, unless disclosing them will jeopardize a felony investigation. However, photographs may not be drawn from the Central Criminal Records Exchange for disclosure at any time to comply with a FOIA request."

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-06-14

Public bodies have five working days to respond to a request for public records, and may invoke an additional seven working days to respond. The statutory remedy for a FOIA violation is to file a petition for mandamus or injunction supported by an affidavit showing good cause. Only a court may decide upon the appropriate remedy in each case.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-05-14

Requesters and public bodies may reach their own agreements on the terms of production of public records. Such agreements should address any variations in response timing and charges to which the parties agree.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-04-14

Suicide reports and related records may be withheld as criminal investigative files because suicide remains a crime in Virginia. To the extent it conflicts with this opinion, AO-10-03 is hereby rescinded.

ATI v. UVA

Supreme Court of Virginia rules unanimously that UVA can withhold records requested by the American Tradition Institute (ATI) under the exemption for academic research and "proprietary records." Court adopts interpretation of "proprietary" that encompasses records that are within the "ownership, title and possession" of the university. Though the ruling is limited to the research exemption (2.2-3705.4(4)), Justice Mims, in concurrence, notes the potential for expansion into FOIA's many other references to "proprietary" records.

The opinion also gives the green light to charging for the review of records to determine their responsivness to a request.

The case was clouded from the beginning by the topic and target of ATI's request: the emails of climate scientis Michael Mann. The issues became one's opinion on climate change and/or one's feelings on academic freedom instead of on whether FOIA's exemption did or did not apply.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-02-14

FOIA does not define the term "custodian," but for FOIA purposes, generally the custodian is the person in charge of public records. Each public body may designate who is to act as custodian of its public records. FOIA does not apply to records that are not public records in the transaction of public business.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-01-14

This opinion discusses the use of the contract negotiations and economic development records exemptions. FOIA allows a records custodian to disclose exempt records in his discretion. FOIA does not require a custodian to engage in a balancing test in exercising that discretion, or to justify or explain a decision not to disclose exempt records.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-08-13

FOIA Council weighs in on availability of date of birth information held by law enforcement agencies.

Attorney General Opinion Sept 27 2013

A public official's constituent newsletter may or may not be a public record; it depends on the content and use of the newsletter. However, if you assume the newsletter is a public record, the email distribution list used to send the newsletter is would not be exempt from disclosure.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-06-13

A contract between a public body and a public employee settling an employment dispute may be withheld as a personnel record. However, accounting records that reflect payments pursuant to a settlement agreement are not exempt.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-05-13

Charges for public records are limited to actual costs. The actual cost to provide electronic records is not the same as the cost to provide paper copies. Estimates must be provided in advance if requested.

FOI Advisory Opinion AO-01-13

Generally, records submitted by a private company to a state agency as required by regulation are public records subject to FOIA. Marking such records proprietary and confidential does not, by itself, make them exempt from mandatory disclosure; records are only exempt if there is a specific provision of law that allows them to be withheld.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-06-12

Considering three different records exemptions, an adult arrestee photograph (mug shot) may not be withheld as a noncriminal incident record; may be withheld if its release would jeopardize a felony investigation; and may be withheld if the subject depicted is also a witness.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-04-12

A telephone billing record paid by a public official in his personal capacity that was not prepared for or used in the transaction of public business is not a public record subject to FOIA. Such a telephone billing record is not paid with public funds, only indicates that a call was made (it does not reveal the contents of the call or who made it), and is prepared by the service provider in order to receive payment as part of a commercial transaction.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-07-11

Summarizes the requirements for making and responding to a FOIA request. Clear communications between the parties are essential. Public bodies are reminded to provide one of the five responses required by statute.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-03-12

A public official may only charge his or her rate of pay as a public official, not as a private employee, when responding to requests for public records.

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