The Virginia FOIA Opinion Archive


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.

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

Circuit Court of the City of Richmond

May 5, 2004

Melvin R. Hughes, Jr.

Thomas W. Williamson, Jr., Esq.
Williamson & LaVecchia, L.C.
6800 Paragon Place
Suite 233
Richmond, VA 23230-1652

Vicki W. Harris, Esq.
Assistant City Attorney
900 East Broad Street
Suite 300
Richmond, VA 23219

Re: Case No. LR-2514-1

Media General Operations, Inc. t/a the Richmond Times Dispatch


City Council of the City of Richmond

Dear Counsel:

Beck v. Shelton

FOIA does not apply to members-elect. Exchange of multiple e-mails over a several-hour period not an illegal electronic meeting. Neighborhood meeting no FOIA violation.

U.S. v. Moussaoui (4th Cir. on access to court records)

Here, a group of media companies asked to intervene in the trial of accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui. They sought access to portions of the record and of the pleadings and motions made by the government. The 4th Circuit agreed with their contention that sealing off all such records was unnecessarily restrictive, and agreed to provide access to the records after first redacting classified information. Judicial documents receive First Amendment status when (1) the place and process have historically been open to the press and general public and (2) public access plays a significant positive role in the functioning of the particular process in question. Even First Amendment rights can be curtailed, though, in cases of compelling governmental interest -- and the national security concerns here met that standard.

Rossignol v. Voorhaar (4th Cir. on censorship)

A newspaper publisher brought a 1983 suit for violation of its First Amendment rights, after county sheriff deputies worried about the paper’s Election Day editorials conspired to buy out the paper’s entire stock from vendors across the county. The district court gave summary judgment for the deputies, saying they acted privately and not under color of state law, as a 1983 suit demands. The 4th circuit reversed the summary judgment, though, because: (1) the deputies sought to censor the publisher's criticism of them in their official roles, (2) their official positions were an intimidating asset in the execution of their plan, and (3) this sort of quasi-private conspiracy by public officials was precisely the target of § 1983. Notably, the court found that the deputies' actions bore a sufficiently close nexus with the State to be fairly treated as that of the State itself.

Globe Newspaper Company v. Commonwealth

Newspapers asked to obtain DNA evidence from a criminal trial and subject it to retesting under modern methods. The Court affirmed a lower court’s decision to deny that request. The right of access to the courts is not so broadly defined under the United States or Virginia Constitutions. Furthermore, the DNA evidence was not a "public record" under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

PETA v. City of Virginia Beach

Virginia Marine Science Museum Foundation is a private entity not subject to FOIA.

Carr v. Forbes Inc. (4th Cir. on libel)

An engineer who sued a magazine for defamation had made himself a limited-purpose public figure by his role in choosing and publicizing contracts. He could not show that the magazine acted with . . .actual malice.’

Connell v. Kersey

(NOTE: The 2002 General Assembly added an amendment to FOIA reversing this decision and making clear that all constitutional offices are subject to FOI law.)

Present: All the Justices



Record No. 001729

June 8, 2001

Jane Marum Roush, Judge