The Virginia FOIA Opinion Archive


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.

Lee Jackson Motel v. Industrial Development Authority

The burden is on the plaintiff to show that an action was taken in executive or closed session without reconvening in open session.

Laird v. City of Danville

Closed Meetings; 2.1-344(b): When Only Two Items on Agenda are Legal Matters, Motion to Confer Privately With Counsel is Valid Under Code sec. 2.1-344(a)(6) Although Whether Both Items or Particular Item Will be Considered is Not Indicated

Marsh v. Richmond Newspapers Inc.

An executive session/closed meeting based on the legal matters exemption is not justified by an attorney's mere presence in the room

Nageotte v. Board of Supervisors of King George County

A motion to go into executive/closed session to discuss personnel issues need not identify the identity of the employee to be discussed.

Richmond Newspapers Inc. v. Commonwealth (Va. Supreme Court on access to courts)

In consolidated cases, several newspapers challenged trial court orders that closed to the public pretrial suppression hearings in three criminal prosecutions. The trial courts had overruled all objections by the newspapers. The Court reversed and vacated the trial court orders. It is unconstitutional to close pretrial hearings without an 'overriding interest articulated in findings,' and those findings should have been aired in a hearing on the merits. In addition, motions to close a hearing should be made in writing and filed with the trial court before the day of the hearing, and the public should be given reasonable notice.

Fleming v. Moore (Virginia Supreme Court on libel)

A broker wanted to build a low-income residential development on land neighboring Moore, a U.Va. professor who opposed the development. The broker's application for rezoning was denied. Consequently, he published paid advertisements in The Cavalier Daily (U.Va.’s newspaper) saying Moore did "not want any black people within his sight." Moore brought a libel action alleging the advertisement injured his reputation in the university community. The Court reversed and remanded a trial court judgment for Moore. The advertisement was not defamatory per se, because the allegation of racism was not made in the context of the professor's employment as a teacher. In addition, the Court held that Moore was not a public figure as a professor or an outspoken resident. He would be entitled to recover compensatory damages upon proof of actual injury, including such elements as damage to his reputation and standing in the community, embarrassment, humiliation, and mental suffering.

Landmark Communications Inc. v. Commonwealth

The Va. Supreme Court upheld a Virginia law punishing anyone who divulged information about the proceedings of the Virginia Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission. The defendant newspaper, after identifying a judge whose conduct was being investigated by the Commission, was convicted and fined for violating the law. The Court said the law was constitutional because freedom of the press is not absolute and the Commission could not function without confidentiality. NOTE: The U.S. Supreme Court overturned this case in Landmark Communications, Inc. v. Virginia, 435 U.S. 829 (1978), ruling that the publication served the interests of public scrutiny and discussion of governmental affairs that the First Amendment was adopted to protect. Neither the state's interest in protecting the reputation of its judges, nor its interest in maintaining the institutional integrity of its courts, was sufficient to justify the subsequent punishment of speech.

WTAR v. City Council of the City of Virginia Beach

An injunction is not justified where there is not a reasonable probability that violations of FOIA will occur again.

Charlottesville Newspapers Inc. v. Berry

Charlottesville Newspapers Inc. v. Berry, 206 S.E.2d 267, 215 Va. 116 (6/19/1974)

Virginia Supreme Court




Upon a Petition for a Writ of Prohibition and Mandamus.

John C. Lowe (Edward L. Hogshire; Lowe & Gordon, on brief), for petitioners.

James E. Kulp, Assistant Attorney General (Andrew P. Miller, Attorney General, on brief), for respondent.

Brown v. Commonwealth

Brown was convicted of a murder in an auto parts junkyard. A newspaper article published on the day after the killing quoted a "spokesman" for the sheriff's department who gave a different version of the facts than the prosecution later presented in court. Brown wanted to make the reporter give up the identity of that confidential source, but the trial court refused to do so. Here, the Court affirmed that decision, ruling that a journalist’s promise of confidentiality should yield only when a defendant’s need is essential to a fair trial. In this case, the Court ruled, the confidential statements would not have affected Brown’s conviction or the severity of his sentence.

Archer v. Mayes


Archer v. Mayes

Record No. 8110

194 S.E.2d 707, 213 Va. 633

March 5, 1973



Appeal from an order of the Circuit Court of Amelia County. Hon. William M. Sweeney, judge designate presiding.

Sanders v. Harris (Virginia Supreme Court on libel)

Sanders, a professor at Virginia Western Community College, sued after a newspaper wrongly reported that she improperly withheld documents from her department head. Her employment contract with the university was not renewed after the article appeared, and she was unable to obtain another position with a university. The Court affirmed a circuit court’s ruling in favor of the defendants, the publisher and the source for the article, because Sanders had not proved actual malice or reckless disregard for the truth. That standard applies when published statements relate to matters of public or general concern, because they are protected by the First Amendment and subject to qualified privilege.

House v. Commonwealth

The Court reversed and dismissed an indictment for a gentleman who sold the "girlie" magazines KNIGHT and RAW. They were not proved beyond a reasonable doubt to be obscene and beyond the area of constitutionally protected expressions, the Court ruled. Determination of whether a particular work of expression is obscene is not merely a factual matter on which jury's verdict is conclusive, but also involves an issue of constitutional law which must ultimately be decided by the Court. The definition of obscenity depends in part on "contemporary community standards," and expert testimony is required to establish those standards. The personal opinions of jurors or witnesses do not in themselves necessarily express or reflect community standards.

Bigelow v. Commonwealth

Bigelow was tried, convicted, and fined for publishing an advertisement in the Virginia Weekly, a Charlottesville newspaper, that advertised abortion services in New York. The Court ruled that the statute, which forbid "encouraging or prompting" abortions in any way, was constitutional. The ruling distinguished the lawful regulation of advertisements from the unlawful abridgement of free expression. The Court said that Bigelow could not assert the hypothetical rights of those whose speech is usually protected -- such as doctors or lecturers -- in making his own claim about commercial advertising.