The Virginia FOIA Opinion Archive


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.

Davis v. City of Chesapeake (Chesapeake Circuit Court)

The Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act is not an exemption to FOIA's disclosure requirements. City may not charge for summary/abstract of record without first reaching an agreeement with the requester.

Fenter v. Norfolk Airport Authority (Virginia Supreme Court)

Norfolk Airport Authority's response that it had forwarded a citizen's FOIA request to the Transportation Security Administration did not meet the standards of any of Virginia FOIA's required responses.

Rivera v. Long (Norfolk Circuit Court) (on costs and attorneys' fees)

Judge rules on cost prevailing plaintiff should pay for copies of general registrar's records, as well as on attorneys' fees for the plaintiff's attorney.

White Dog Publishing v. Culpeper Board of Supervisors

In considering certain newspaper publishers' application for a writ of mandamus, the circuit court erred in finding that a county board of supervisors did not violate the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by going into a closed session at a particular meeting and erred in failing to award reasonable costs and attorney's fees under the Act. Because the purpose of the closed session was not the formation or modifications of a procurement contract, it did not fall within the statutory public contract exemption of § 2.2-3711(A)(30), and special circumstances did not make an award of fees and costs unjust.

Lee v. Minner (3d U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals)

States cannot limit use of their public records laws to citzens/residents of that state (this case is from a federal appeals court that covers Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and The Virgin Islands).

Rivera v. Long (Norfolk Circuit Court)

General Registrar must disclose rejection letters written to applicants to vote. Actual applications may be withheld under state election law.

Bland v. Virginia State University (Supreme Court, 6/8/06)

In FOIA cases, complete set of records must be included on appeal to afford Supreme Court full review on the merits. Trial court erred in refusing plaintiff's motion to include full set of records.

911 tapes are public record, judge rules

-- The public has a right to hear the 911 call made by a mother accused of killing her son, a judge ruled April 13.

Media General Operations Inc. v. Buchanan (4th Cir. on access to courts)

Several media companies joined forces to request a judicial order that would unseal affidavits supporting search warrants related to U.S. antiterrorist efforts. They also wanted the district court to maintain a public docket of search warrant proceedings. The 4th Circuit affirmed a lower court’s ruling that denied those requests. Although the press has a qualified common-law right to see judicial documents, that right is not as strong as a First Amendment right, and can be overridden at a judge’s discretion. The magistrate judge had ruled within her discretion that unsealing the affidavits would hamper an ongoing investigation, and that the government’s reasons for secrecy were compelling. Furthermore, the press and public have no right to advance notice of a request to seal such records. Instead, journalists and other citizens may object after the fact, when they see the public record of a sealing order.

Cartwright v. Commonwealth Transportation Commission

It is not necessary for a plaintiff asking for a writ of mandamus under FOIA to prove that he has no other adequate remedy at law. Agency's provision of sought-after records after litigation has been initiated over access to those records does not moot case.

William H. Turner v. Virginia Board of Dentistry, Department of Health Professions, et al.

Board of Dentistry meeting minutes were inadequate, did not include even a summary of the discussion on a particular subject and decision. Attorney fees awarded for FOIA violation. No wilful violation found.

Albright v. Woodfin

NOTE: Scroll to end for another ruling in a district court proceeding, June 10, 2005, between Albright and the Attorney General over advance-estimating of costs for filling a FOIA request.

Lee H. Albright v. William Woodfin et al., CL05-0006, Nelson County Circuit Court

May 26, 2005

Judge J. Michael Gamble

Jordan v. Kollman (Virginia Supreme Court on libel)

Jordan, a resident of Colonial Heights, published advertisements criticizing the mayor for allowing low-income housing to be built in the city. In fact, the mayor had opposed the construction of the housing, and he sued for defamation. But the Court ruled that the mayor was a 'public official' required to show 'actual malice' in the case. Jordan testified that his ads were based on a certain newspaper article that supported his assertions. The Court found that he believed his advertisements represented the facts of the situation and had an objective reason for so believing. Because there was no clear and convincing evidence that Jordan’s ads were fabricated by him or a product of his imagination, there was no malice. The trial court should have granted Jordan’s motion to strike the evidence and set aside the jury's verdict.

Virginia Department of State Police v. Washington Post (4th Cir. on access to courts)

The Virginia police objected unsuccessfully to the unsealing of records related to Earl Washington, Jr., who was wrongly sentenced to death for rape and murder. After DNA evidence led to a pardon for Washington, media organizations asked for police documents relating to the initial investigation, which were subpoenaed in a civil suit Washington brought after his release. The district court found that 14 of these documents deserved First Amendment status, rather than only qualified common-law protection, and ordered their release. The 4th Circuit agreed on ten of those documents, but for four others, ruled that the district court needed to further explain its decision.

Wigand v. Wilkes

Public television and radio station not a public body because less than two-thirds of funding comes from public money, and they do not perform a delegated governmental function.

Zaleski v. Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission


Allan D. Zaleski,


Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission,



The parties appeared for argument on the demurrer to the bill of complaint.

Proceeding under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, plaintiff seeks disclosure of an advisory opinion given by Counsel to the Judicial Inquiry Review Commission to a judge who verbally made the request and to whom a verbal opinion was given.

Media General Operations v. City Council of the City of Richmond

City council meeting to discuss performance of city manager improperly strayed into discussion of city's soaring crime rate. No authority for closing a proceeding to present closing arguments in a case challenging the propriety of a closed meeting.