The Virginia FOIA Opinion Archive


Times-World Corp. v. Wells

Times-World Corp. v. Wells


32 Va. Cir. 239

November 16, 1993


Shenandoah Publishing House v. Warren County School Board

FOIA violations made in good faith do not require the imposition of civil penalties

In Re: Shain (4th Cir. on confidential sources)

Four South Carolina reporters who covered the bribery investigation of several state legislators were subpoenaed to testify in the subsequent criminal trial. Even after their motion to quash the subpoenas failed, the reporters refused to comply, asserting that: 1) they had a qualified privilege against being compelled to testify on newsgathering; and 2) the subpoenas violated Department of Justice guidelines that say the government must fail to exhaust all reasonable alternative sources. The district judge found them in contempt, and the Court affirmed, citing only an incidental burden on freedom of the press. Without evidence of governmental harassment or bad faith, the reporters had no privilege different from that of any other citizen not to testify about knowledge relevant to a criminal prosecution. Furthermore, the government did make clear that it could uncover no other source with evidence that the state senator had made false exculpatory statements.

Little v. Virginia Retirement System

an individual's wilful and knowing violation of FOIA merits penalty

Little v. Virginia Retirement System

Is the RF&P Corporation a public body subject to FOIA? Has there been a willful violation of FOIA?

Gannon v. State Corporation Commission

A plaintiff must exhaust all available state remedies in an action against an agency before proceeding to circuit court.

National Rural Utilities v. Greenlief

The tax-exempt status of certain individuals is information that is exempt from disclosure under FOIA by virtue of the Tax Code's general prohibition against release of taxpayer information.

James v. Division of Consolidated Services

Va FOIA excludes evidence related to a criminal investigation unless needed for criminal defense.

Taylor v. Worrell Enterprises

The governor's itemized telephone bills are official records exempt from disclosure as memoranda, working papers or correspondence.

ACLU v. Andrews


American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, et al.


Senator Hunter B. Andrews, et al.

Case No. HB-342-4

September 19, 1991

By Judge Randall G. Johnson

Reuber v. Food Chemical News Inc. (4th Cir. on libel)

Reuber, a scientist, declared himself a whistleblower and created the misleading impression that a controversial pesticide was carcinogenic. A newsletter published his employer's reprimand, which stated that Reuber had engaged in unprofessional conduct. He sued for defamation and won in a jury trial which awarded him compensatory and punitive damages. On appeal, the Court reversed and remanded in favor of Food Chemical News. Reuber had made himself a public figure, and so the . . .actual malice’ standard should be applied. The jury could not have found actual malice here. The court held that the First Amendment protected the public's right to learn both sides of a controversy through the press and declined to uphold a damages award that left the debate one-sided. The court reversed the jury verdict that favored Reuber and remanded the case for entry of judgment in favor of the news group.

Hale v. Washington County School Board

Relief for a plaintiff under FOIA does not include compelling a government body to turn over minutes, even if there are any, of an executive/closed meeting.

Lemond v. McElroy

Documents generated in connection with the payment process of a settlement agreement, after the mutual agreement to settle, are open to public inspection.

Atlas Underwriters v. State Corporation Commission

The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) does not apply to the State Corporation Commission.

Associated Tax Service Inc. v. Fitzpatrick

The purpose or motivation behind a request made under FOIA is irrelevant to a citizen's entitlement to requested information.

Saunders v. Pethtel

FOIA and the statute that allows inspection of competitive sealed bids are separate and distinct.

Lee v. Ilbo (4th Circuit on libel)

A South Korean government agency issued a report that identified Lee, a U.S. resident alien, as a North Korean spy. Several newspapers and a television station reported the story. Lee sued the media groups for libel, and the trial court granted their motions for summary judgment. On appeal, the Court held that defendants were not entitled to the . . .official reports’ exception allowed under common law for those accused of republishing defamatory statements. That exception exists to promote government accountability, and this was a report from a foreign governments, so the rationale did not hold. Media groups have the same burden to verify reports from foreign governments as they do to verify reports from domestic non-official sources. The court reversed the summary judgment and remanded the case for Lee to prove falsity and negligence.

Students for Animals v. Animal Research Committee, U.Va.


Students for Animals v. The Rector and Board of Visitors of The University of Virginia, and Animal Care Committee, etc.

Case No. N-6464-3

May 26, 1988

By Judge T. J. Markow

This is a petition under the Freedom of Information Act requesting that the court order that meetings of the Animal Research Committee of the University of Virginia be treated as public meetings under the Act.

Shenandoah Publishing House v. Fanning

Shenandoah Publishing House Inc. v. Fanning, 368 S.E.2d 253, 235 Va. 253 (4/22/1988)

Virginia Supreme Court




Appeal from a judgment of the Circuit Court of the City of Winchester. Hon. Henry H. Whiting, judge presiding.

James L. Berry for appellant.

Phillip C. Stone (Ronald D. Hodges; Douglas G. Schneebeck; Wharton, Aldhizer & Weaver, on brief), for appellees Winchester, Memorial Hospital and H. George White, M.D.

Shenandoah Publishing House Inc. v. Fanning (Va. Supreme Court on access to courts)

A publisher intervened to challenge a Winchester Circuit Court decision which entered several protective orders in a wrongful death action. Among the records sealed were those concerning a compromise settlement between the estate of the deceased and the defendant corporations. The Court held that the trial court had struck the wrong balance between the interests of the parties involved and the interest of the public. A rebuttable presumption of public access to judicial records applies in civil proceedings. To overcome that presumption, the moving party must establish an interest so compelling that it could be protected reasonably only by a protective order. Any such order must be drafted in the manner least restrictive of the public's interest. The Court reversed the order that sealed judicial records in the case and remanded for a hearing on whether the records should remain sealed. The public had a societal interest in learning whether compromise settlements in a wrongful death action were equitable and whether the courts were acting properly. However, the Court affirmed the trial court’s decision to seal the pre-trial information collected during discovery. It was not a matter of public record, and the publisher had no right of access.

U.S. v. Morison (4th Cir. on confidential sources)

Morison was an analyst for the Naval Intelligence Support Center and a part-time employee of a British publication concerning military armaments. He obtained secret Naval satellite photographs of Soviet nuclear-powered vessels and sent the photographs to both the British publisher and the Washington Post, which published them. After the Navy discovered that Morison had stolen and disseminated the photographs, he was convicted for theft and for violating the Espionage Act. On appeal, defendant contended that that the statutes did not encompass his alleged improper conduct, and if they did, the statutes were unconstitutional. The court affirmed, holding that defendant's illegal conduct was encompassed by statutes' clear and unambiguous language. Further, because the First Amendment did not prohibit prosecutions for unauthorized leaks of damaging national security information, Morison’s convictions were not unconstitutional.

Falwell v. Flynt (4th Cir. on libel)

Falwell brought suit against Larry Flynt and his magazine for libel, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress after Hustler published a parody of the preacher having a drunken rendezvous with his own mother. (1) The district court dismissed the claim for invasion of privacy because the use of plaintiff's name and likeness in the parody was not for purposes of trade within the meaning of the statute. (2) The jury found for defendants on the libel claim because no reasonable person would believe that the parody described actual facts about Falwell, and the parody contained a disclaimer. (3) The jury found against defendant magazine and publisher on the emotional distress claim, and Falwell was awarded actual and punitive damages. On appeal, the Court held that the . . .actual malice’ standard for public officials was met, because the jury found that Flynt’s intentional or reckless misconduct caused Falwell’s severe emotional distress. NOTE: The Supreme Court reversed this opinion in Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46 (1988), Falwell was a public figure, the Court said, and so the "actual malice" standard was thus: Flynt must make a false statement of fact, knowing it to be false, or with reckless disregard for the truth. Here, because the trial below had found no one would believe the parody to represent actual facts, there was no actual malice.

The Gazette Inc. v. Harris (Virginia Supreme Court on libel)

In consolidated cases, several citizens sued newspapers for publishing defamatory articles about them. In each action, the trial court had applied a negligence standard, and the Court took the opportunity to clarify the standard of liability that should govern an award of compensatory damages to a private individual in a libel action. (1) A preponderance of the evidence must prove that the publication was false and that the defendant either knew it to be false, lacked reasonable grounds for believing it to be true, or acted negligently in failing to ascertain the facts. (2) The negligence standard applies only where the danger to the plaintiff's reputation is apparent from the defamatory statement. (3) The plaintiff can recover regardless of whether the publication in question related to a matter of public or general concern. (4) The negligence standard is applicable to both media and non-media defendants.

Lee Jackson Motel v. Industrial Development Authority

The procedure was not in opposition of the Freedom of Information Act, and the size of the land purchase did not invalidate the proposition.

Roanoke City School Board v. Times-World Corp.

Pre-arranged telephone conference call among members of a local school board, during which matters proper for an executive or closed session are discussed which are, is not a meeting under FOIA and does not violate the statutory requirement of prior notice to the public.