The Virginia FOIA Opinion Archive

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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.

Virginia Broadcasting Corp. v. Commonwealth

Virginia Supreme Court rules trial court did not err in refusing TV station's request to have cameras present during the sentencing phase of convicted murder defendant George Huguely.

The court attempted to reconcile two seemingly contradictory phrases within the statute and while setting forth the specific procedure to be used in the future, acknowledged that it is not the way things have been done practically speaking.

McBurney v. Young

The U.S. Supreme Court rules (9-0) that Virginia FOIA's limitation on out-of-state requests (i.e., requests from out of state do not have to be honored) is constitutional.

Daily Press v. Commonwealth

Virginia Supreme Court rules that Newport News judge wrongly sealed trial exhibits. Big win for the Daily Press, and strong statements from Justice William Mims on the role of the press in being a surrogate for the public's right to know.

Ewing v. Harmon

In a petition under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act arising from a request for production by a police department of personnel records of a specific officer, such records are subject to the protections of Code § 2.2-3705.1(1) and their production was appropriately refused by the Department; the circuit court's order requiring disclosure of the personnel records is reversed. The request for criminal incident information including the identities of all individuals, other than juveniles, arrested or charged by this officer must be accommodated by the Department. However, under Code § 2.2-3706 the portion of the request concerning the identities of individuals arrested by other officers based on observations or information supplied by the specified officer seeks information that is exempt from disclosure. Concerning the award of attorneys' fees in this matter under Code § 2.2-3713(D), the determination of "special circumstances" lies in the sound discretion of the trial court, and this issue must be considered in light of the several holdings in favor of the responding police department on this appeal. The circuit court must reconsider whether to award attorneys' fees and, if so, the appropriate quantum. The judgment is affirmed in part, reversed in part, and the case is remanded.

Ewing v. Harmon

In a petition under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act arising from a request for production by a police department of personnel records of a specific officer, such records are subject to the protections of Code § 2.2-3705.1(1) and their production was appropriately refused by the Department; the circuit court's order requiring disclosure of the personnel records is reversed. The request for criminal incident information including the identities of all individuals, other than juveniles, arrested or charged by this officer must be accommodated by the Department. However, under Code § 2.2-3706 the portion of the request concerning the identities of individuals arrested by other officers based on observations or information supplied by the specified officer seeks information that is exempt from disclosure. Concerning the award of attorneys' fees in this matter under Code § 2.2-3713(D), the determination of "special circumstances" lies in the sound discretion of the trial court, and this issue must be considered in light of the several holdings in favor of the responding police department on this appeal. The circuit court must reconsider whether to award attorneys' fees and, if so, the appropriate quantum. The judgment is affirmed in part, reversed in part, and the case is remanded.

Project Vote v. Long

4th Circuit rules that completed voter registration forms, with Social Security numbers redacted, must be disclosed under the National Voter Registration Act.

Hill v. Fairfax County School Board

The Supreme Court of Virginia rules that the rapid and extensive exchange of emails leading up to a meeting is not itself a meeting triggering FOIA's requirements.

Saltville v. Surber

Judge in Saltville reviewed under seal several documents related to a former town employee. He eventually ruled that some of them must be released to a newspaper, over the former employee's objection, and that others did not have to be released because they did not discuss public business. Read the full final order here.

Virginian-Pilot v. City of Norfolk School Board

Court rules that some administrative investigative records had to be released because the investigation was over, but also rules that the school district was not required to redact personnel records and scholastic records in response to newspaper's FOIA request.

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