The Virginia FOIA Opinion Archive


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

Wilson v. City of Salem

Wilson v. City of Salem/Munley v. City of Salem: Judge Weckstein's opinion

Mannix v. Board of Supervisors

[The case was first heard in General District Court; order below.]

May 3, 2001

Mr. Patrick J. Mannix, Sr.
Bristol, VA 24201

Mr. J.D. Bowie
Attorney at Law
Bristol, VA 24203

Re: Patrick J. Mannix, Sr. v. Washington County Board of Supervisors
Circuit Court of Washington County
File No. 01-93


Smith v. Richmond Newspapers

Present: All the Justices




Record No. 000337

January 12, 2001

George F. Tidey, Judge


In this appeal, we consider whether audio tape recordings of a felony criminal trial are open to inspection by the public under Code § 17.1-208 and, if so, whether mandamus is the proper remedy to compel the clerk of the trial court to allow such inspection.


Bell v. Jarvis (4th Cir. on public trials)

A man convicted of sexually abusing his step-granddaughter objected when the public and press were removed from the courtroom while she testified. On direct appeal, his lawyer failed to make a 6th Amendment claim to a public trial. The state courts summarily rejected petitioner's state habeas claim that failure to pursue the Sixth Amendment violation on appeal constituted ineffective assistance of counsel. The federal district court likewise rejected the claim and petitioner appealed. The court affirmed, finding that the underlying circumstances of the case sufficiently indicated an overriding, compelling interest in protecting a child victim from the embarrassment and trauma, that the closure was narrowly tailored to protect the compelling interest, and that the state court did not unreasonably reject petitioner's Sixth Amendment claims on the basis of an improper denial of a public trial.

Fisher v. King

No 1st Amendment right of access to government-held information.

Connell v. Kersey

Commonwealth Attorney not a public body under FOIA. Criminal incident information need only be summarized; the actual records need not be disclosed.

Hertz v. Times-World Corp.

The Bedford County Circuit Court granted writs of mandamus to two newspapers, ordering that transcripts from several criminal hearings be made public. Two of the hearings involved juveniles and two involved adults accused of sexual crimes, in which numerous juvenile witnesses were required to testify. The Court reversed those writs of mandamus. The newspapers should have pursued their proper legal remedy, which was to intervene in order to have their objections heard.

Shenandoah Publishing House v. City of Winchester

Document given to city attorney by city manager is protected from mandatory disclosure as attorney-client privilege because it was prepared as part of an active administrative investigation in which legal advice was needed.

Lawrence v. Jenkins

Not an FOIA violation when a public official chooses to exercise an exemption, redacted exempt information, but failed to timely cite the applicable Code section for the exemption.

Food Lion Inc. v. Capital Cities/ABC Inc. (4th Cir. on media law)

Defendant reporters got jobs with Food Lion through misrepresentation and made a videotape, which was aired on ABC, of the store’s unwholesome food handling practices. (1) The court held that, since the reporters were at-will employees for an indefinite period, there was no reliance on their misrepresentations that would support a fraud claim. (2) However, since the reporters intended to act against the interests of plaintiff, they were liable in tort for employee disloyalty. (3) Their disloyalty rose to trespass, because it went beyond the consent Food Lion granted them to enter the store’s premises. (4) The final two charges could not be shown. ABC and its reporters were not guilty of unfair trade practices, since they did not harm the consuming public. (5) Food Lion could not claim damages to its reputation resulting from the broadcast since it did not allege actual malice on the part of the defendants.

Town of Madison v. Ford

The Virginia Constitution requires that votes taken on all municipal ordinances must reflect how each member present voted.

Yeagle v. Collegiate Times (Va. Supreme Court on libel)

Yeagle, a college employee, filed a complaint against Virginia Tech’s Collegiate Times, alleging defamation after the phrase . . .director of butt licking’ appeared under her name in an article. Her suit was dismissed, and the Court upheld that dismissal. As a matter of law, the phrase could not convey a defamatory meaning. It contained no factual information, but was instead a . . .disgusting’ bit of rhetorical hyperbole.

Snyder v. Ringgold (4th Cir. on access to records)

Ringgold, a police official, restricted a reporter's access to police department information, after she aired a story about possible department corruption, by only communicating with her in writing and prohibiting her from any exclusive interviews with department personnel. The reporter brought a §1983 action, claiming that the restrictions violated her 1st 14th Amendment rights. After the reporter's summary judgment motion on liability was granted, Ringgold asserted the defense of qualified immunity in a summary judgment motion, which was denied by the district court. On appeal, the Court reversed the decision, holding that the rights involved were not sufficiently clear to deny Ringgold qualified immunity. Acting reasonably, Ringgold might not have understood that the reporter's rights would be violated by the restrictions placed on her. NOTE: This is an unpublished opinion, meaning it cannot be relied on as precedent.

Tull v. Brown

Tapes used to record 911 calls are public records, but they are exempt as noncriminal incident information.

Richmond Newspapers v. Casteen

Materials that would nonetheless be official records standing alone may become exempt correspondence if they are transmitted to a qualified office as a letter.

Capital Tours v. DMV

FOIA does not require the production of trade secrets or proprietary information.

Shenandoah Publishing House v. Warren County School Board

An injunction is proper where a school board enters into any contract, which was discussed during a closed executive session conducted pursuant to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act and whose effective date is before the date on which the school board reconvenes in open session and formally approves the contract.