The Virginia FOIA Opinion Archive

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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. 

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.

Dixon v. VCU

A Fairfax County Circuit Court ruled Sept. 9 that the names home and business addresses of the Virginia Commonwealth University Board of Visitors must be released when requested under FOIA.

Cline v. Augusta County and Board of Equalization of Augusta County

Augusta County Circuit Court judge rules that county Board of Equalization violated FOIA by meeting in a small, inaccessible room with a sign on the door directing the public to wait outside until their case was called.

Full text of the opinion (PDF)

Selover v. Warren Department of Social Services

Page General District Court Judge Dale Houff's Feb. 19, 2010, letter ruling on DSS' compliance with order to produce records under FOIA.

Ostergren v. McDonnell (permanent injunction) - federal district court

Federal district court rules that privacy advocate BJ Ostergren may continue to publish the Social Security numbers of prominent persons, but not private ones, to protest current Virginia practices allowing land records with full SSNs to be published online.

McBurney v. Mims (U.S. federal district court)

U.S. District Court grants Attorney General's motion to dismiss in case challenging Virginia FOIA's restriction of its use to Virginia citizens only (i.e., a North Carolina resident has no right to file a request to receive records from Virginia state or local government).

McBurney v. Mims - briefs

Please visit our Brief Bank to view some of the briefs filed by the plaintiffs in McBurney v. Mims, which challenges the provision in Virginia FOIA that says FOIA can be used by Virginia citizens only, not out-of-state residents.

Perreault v. The Free Lance-Star (Va. Supreme Court)

The settlement terms of several wrongful death lawsuits brought in Spotsylvania County against a pharmaceutical company must be disclosed publicly and cannot be sealed in the court records, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled. The unanimous opinion upholds a circuit court ruling that it was improper to permit the suits to be settled without the details disclosed in court.

Ostergren v. McDonnell (federal district court)

Virginia law barring people from posting Social Security numbers on the Internet is unconstitutional as applied to a privacy advocate's Web site as it existed at the time of the lawsuit.

Giarratano v. Johson (4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals)

Virginia Freedom of Information Act's prohibition on prisoner use for records not related to their court cases is constitutionally sound.

Rivera v. Long (Virginia Supreme Court)

Where the Social Security numbers are redacted from voter registration application records, the documents will no longer be exempt from inspection.

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