The Virginia FOIA Opinion Archive

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Hart v. Town of Onley

General district judge rules town did not violate FOIA's provisions on motions to go into closed meeting or for proper topics for closed-meeting discussion, specifically discipline of the mayor by the town council.

Townes v. State Board of Elections

The Supreme Court of Virginia ruled June 18, 2020, (among other issues) that a circuit court did not abuse its discretion by allowing the State Board of Elections to introduce multiple instances where two members of the Hopewell Electoral Board violated FOIA's meeting provisions. The petition SBE filed alleged violations on "at least three occasions," meaning that at trial they could offer evidence of those three plus others.

Cole v. Smyth County BOS

Supreme Court of VIrginia rules unanimously, May 28, 2020, that the Smyth County Board of Supervisors used an improper motion to go into closed session and talked about matters beyond the scope of the claimed exemption.

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.

Brown v. Tashman

Fairfax Circuit Court Judge David Oblon ruled April 21, 2020, that settlements under the infant settlement statute (§8.01-424(A)) cannot be sealed. The court left open the door for sealing when there is "credible, particularized evidence of the child's medical condition necessary to justify a complete sealing of the settlement terms."

Bragg v. BOS (Rappahannock County)

A Rappahannock County circuit judge ruled the board of supervisors there improperly closed a meeting to talk about an advertisement seeking a replacement for an outgoing county attorney as well as alternatives to the county attorney set-up. The topic was not "legal advice," nor did it fall under the personnel exemption for "prospective candidates for employment."

Transparent GMU v. George Mason, Supreme Court opinion

GMU Foundation not subject to Virginia FOIA and not a university agent, therefore university not responsible for accessing foundation's records, either.

Minke v. Page County district court

Minke v. Page County

Feb. 25, 2019

U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Harrisonburg Division

Chief U.S. District Judge Michael F. Urbanski

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.

VITA v. Turner

Richmond Circuit Judge Designate William N. Alexander II entered an order Oct. 15, 2018, that (1) FOIA does not apply to "the judiciary, including the Executive Secretary"; (2) enforcement of FOIA against the judiciary and the OES is "barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which has not been waived."; and (3) separation of powers bars enforcement of FOIA against the judiciary and the OES.

Transparent GMU v. GMU order: July 5, 2018

Fairfax Circuit Court rules GMU Foundation is not subject to FOIA, nor is the university required to respond to a FOIA request on the foundation's behalf.

Bragg v. Board of Supervisors (SCOVA)

Virginia Supreme Court unanimously rules that citizen's affidavit in support of an alleged closed meeting violation adequately demonstrated good cause for proceeding.

Batterson v. Voorhees

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

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:

Transparent GMU v. George Mason University order

A Fairfax Circuit County judge's order on various pretrial motions in a case brought by a transparency group against George Mason University and the George Mason University Foundation, Inc.

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.

Daily Press v. OES

Clerks of court are the individual custodians of the court case data supplied to the Office of Executive Secretary's online database.

Davison v. Dunnavant

Virginia state senators are not individually subject to FOIA.

Moody v. Portsmouth

The letter signed by five members of a city council and presented to another council member in a closed meeting should have been voted on first in open session.

Denton v. Hopewell

Circuit Court of Richmond Judge W. Allan Sharrett rules Hopewell cannot used a closed meeting to discuss whom to elect to the positions of mayor or vice mayor.

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.

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.)

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.

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.

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