The Virginia FOIA Opinion Archive

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FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-02-21

The Parole Board is largely excepted from FOIA, but that exception only applies to the Board itself. However, the Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) may withhold certain records it receives from the Board pursuant to the administrative investigation exemption at subdivision 7 of § 2.2-3705.3. The same exemption requires that OSIG must release records of completed investigations in redacted form. FOIA does not prohibit the release of OSIG reports by members of the General Assembly, but it would be beyond the statutory authority of this office to opine whether other laws outside of FOIA may act as such prohibitions on voluntary disclosure.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-01-21

Although personnel records may be withheld from public disclosure, accounting records that reflect payments made by a public body to a former employee pursuant to a settlement agreement are not exempt. As this office is not a trier of fact, only a court has the authority to resolve factual disputes about specific records.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-04-20

The provisions of § 2.2-3708.2 allowing members to participate in meetings by electronic communication means are alternative meetings procedures, not exemptions from public access that would allow meetings to be closed to the public. If a member is calling in due to a disability or medical condition or due to a personal matter, the member must specify which reason it is in order to notify the chair and comply with the requirements for minutes. A generalized concern about illness is not a sufficient reason to use the provision allowing remote participation due to a disability or medical condition, but following the recommendations of VDH and CDC to stay home during the COVID-19 state of emergency is a sufficient reason, particularly if the member is in one of the categories at higher risk to contract a severe illness. However, each body may set its own policy on participation as allowed by FOIA, up to and including not using these remote participation provisions at all.

 

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-03-20

The records exclusion at subdivision 1 of § 2.2-3705.3 exempts from mandatory disclosure "information relating to investigations of applicants for licenses and permits, and of all licensees and permittees, made by or submitted to" certain public bodies. That language includes the application and materials submitted. Additionally, unlike several other exemptions in the same section, the language of this exemption does not limit its application to active investigations nor does it require the disclosure of inactive or completed reports.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-01-20

Closed meeting motions must include a subject, purpose, and citation and must be set forth in detail in the meeting minutes. Votes taken after a closed meeting must reasonably identify the substance of the vote. Meeting minutes must include a summary of the discussion on matters proposed, deliberated or decided, and a record of any votes taken.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-02-20

A public body may not provide a requester with a summary of an existing record instead of the record itself, even when the record may be redacted, unless the requester agrees to accept the summary instead.

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-02-19

A public body engaged in dispute resolution proceedings may hold closed meetings under the exemptions for discussion of actual or probable litigation and consultation with legal counsel on specific legal matters. However, it does not appear that FOIA or the various laws concerning dispute resolution have considered or addressed situations where two or more public bodies wish to hold a joint meeting for the purpose of dispute resolution. There are also applicable records exemptions for certain records of dispute resolution proceedings both within FOIA and outside of FOIA in statutes that specifically address such dispute resolution proceedings.

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.

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-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-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.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-03-18

The definition of "public body" includes, among other entities, "any committee, subcommittee, or other entity however designated, of the public body created to perform delegated functions of the public body or to advise the public body." A budget task force appointed by a school superintendent that advises the superintendent is not a "public body" under this definition.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-02-18

A motion to convene a closed meeting must identify the subject of the meeting, the purpose of the meeting, and the exemption(s) which allow the meeting to be closed. A motion that fails to identify the subject, or lacks any other element, is insufficient. There is no general exemption for public bodies to discuss police investigations in closed meetings. Votes are required to be taken at open meetings; decisions made in closed meetings are not effective until a vote is taken at an open meeting.

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.

FOI Advisory Council opinion AO-07-17

Following the policy and procedures of FOIA, all public records, including procurement records, must be disclosed upon request unless an exemption or other specific provision of law allows the records to be withheld.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-06-17

The FOIA Council's first opinion under its new executive director, Alan Gernhardt, tackles the three-day notice rule for public meetings.

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