The Virginia FOIA Opinion Archive

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FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-04-24

The exemption for a closed meeting relating to discussion of actual or probable litigation does not require that legal counsel be present at the discussion. Briefings pertaining to actual or probable litigation may be performed by staff members or consultants. Conversely, the exemption for a closed meeting pertaining to consultation with legal counsel employed or retained by a public body regarding specific legal matters does require that legal counsel be present accordingly. Public notice of a special, emergency, or continued meeting must be reasonable under the circumstances and shall be given contemporaneously with the notice being provided to the members of the public body conducting the meeting.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-02-24

A public body shall not be required to create a new record if the record does not already exist; however, a public body is required to provide to a requester, unless otherwise specifically provided by law, a public record in the medium requested if the public record is identified with reasonable specificity and if that medium is used by the public body in the regular course of business.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-01-24

Discusses the circumstances under which a pro se petitioner becomes eligible to obtain reimbursement of attorney fees after hiring an attorney to represent the petitioner in a FOIA matter or during the appeal process. A court would have to determine that a petitioner's rights and privileges were denied in violation of law, that the petitioner had substantially prevailed on the merits of his case, and that there were no special circumstances that would make the awarding of attorney fees and costs unjust. The court would have to determine the amount of attorney fees and costs that were incurred by a petitioner in the litigation proceedings and award a reimbursement amount
 

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-03-23

Upon a receipt of a request, a public body must respond in accordance with the established provisions and timeframes in subsection B of § 2.2-3704. If part of the requested records are being withheld from release, a public body shall identify with reasonable particularity the subject matter of withheld portions, and cite, as to each category of withheld records, the specific Code section that authorizes the withholding of the records. Considering the policy of FOIA and the legal duties it imposes, there is a presumption of good faith that a custodian of records will obey the law in carrying out their duties by searching for and providing all records as requested unless the records are exempt or prohibited from release. FOIA is intended to be a non-adversarial process for obtaining information.

FOI Advisory Council opinion AO-02-23

A Governor-elect's transition teams generally would not be public bodies subject to FOIA unless they are supported wholly or principally by public funds. Transition team records might be public records subject to FOIA (i) if the transition team is a public body because it is supported by public funds or (ii) if transition team records are possessed by another public body in the transaction of public business. Applying FOIA's narrow construction rule for exemptions, the working papers and correspondence exemption, subdivision 2 of § 2.2-3705.7, may only be used by those listed in the exemption itself. While the "Office of the Governor" is listed in the exemption, "Governor-elect" is not and therefore, a Governor-elect may not use the working papers and correspondence exemption.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-01-23

Public Subsection D of § 15.2-2907 exempts the Commission on Local Government and certain meetings from FOIA, but does not otherwise address access to public records under FOIA. Also discussed the attorney-client privilege exemption, delivery methods and remedies available under FOIA.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-01-22

Public bodies are required to provide cost estimates for the production of public records upon request, but FOIA does not specify the level of detail to be included with a cost estimate. Because an estimate is inexact by definition and sometimes the total costs that may be incurred cannot be predicted with accuracy, FOIA does not require a public body to declare a maximum amount. In such situations, public bodies are encouraged to communicate the factual basis for the estimate and seek to reach an agreement with the requester on the production of records, which may include agreed limits on the amount of time and money to
be expended.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-02-21

The Parole Board is largely excepted from FOIA, but that exception only applies to the Board itself. However, the Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) may withhold certain records it receives from the Board pursuant to the administrative investigation exemption at subdivision 7 of § 2.2-3705.3. The same exemption requires that OSIG must release records of completed investigations in redacted form. FOIA does not prohibit the release of OSIG reports by members of the General Assembly, but it would be beyond the statutory authority of this office to opine whether other laws outside of FOIA may act as such prohibitions on voluntary disclosure.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-01-21

Although personnel records may be withheld from public disclosure, accounting records that reflect payments made by a public body to a former employee pursuant to a settlement agreement are not exempt. As this office is not a trier of fact, only a court has the authority to resolve factual disputes about specific records.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-04-20

The provisions of § 2.2-3708.2 allowing members to participate in meetings by electronic communication means are alternative meetings procedures, not exemptions from public access that would allow meetings to be closed to the public. If a member is calling in due to a disability or medical condition or due to a personal matter, the member must specify which reason it is in order to notify the chair and comply with the requirements for minutes. A generalized concern about illness is not a sufficient reason to use the provision allowing remote participation due to a disability or medical condition, but following the recommendations of VDH and CDC to stay home during the COVID-19 state of emergency is a sufficient reason, particularly if the member is in one of the categories at higher risk to contract a severe illness. However, each body may set its own policy on participation as allowed by FOIA, up to and including not using these remote participation provisions at all.

 

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-03-20

The records exclusion at subdivision 1 of § 2.2-3705.3 exempts from mandatory disclosure "information relating to investigations of applicants for licenses and permits, and of all licensees and permittees, made by or submitted to" certain public bodies. That language includes the application and materials submitted. Additionally, unlike several other exemptions in the same section, the language of this exemption does not limit its application to active investigations nor does it require the disclosure of inactive or completed reports.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-01-20

Closed meeting motions must include a subject, purpose, and citation and must be set forth in detail in the meeting minutes. Votes taken after a closed meeting must reasonably identify the substance of the vote. Meeting minutes must include a summary of the discussion on matters proposed, deliberated or decided, and a record of any votes taken.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-02-20

A public body may not provide a requester with a summary of an existing record instead of the record itself, even when the record may be redacted, unless the requester agrees to accept the summary instead.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-09-19

The fundraising exemption, subdivision A 7 of § 2.2-3705.4, allows a public body to withhold certain information maintained in connection with fundraising activities by or for a public institution of higher education. The identity of a donor may only be withheld under the fundraising exemption if the donor has requested anonymity in connection with or as a condition of making a pledge or donation. Only a court has the authority to review records in camera and render a legally binding decision on whether redactions were properly made.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-08-19

The exemption in subdivision 13 of § 2.2-3705.1 applies to certain account numbers and routing information, but does not address the names of credit card holders. The expedited hearing provisions in § 2.2-3713 apply regardless of whether a petition is filed in general district court or circuit court. Only a court may rule on evidentiary matters.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-07-19

The exemption in subdivision 32 of § 2.2-3705.6 of FOIA applies to “information related to a grant application, or accompanying a grant application” that is submitted to the Department of Housing and Community Development as described in the exemption. Challenges to applications submitted as part of the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative program are not exempt from disclosure under this exemption as they are not submitted by the applicant.
 

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-06-19

Failure to provide notice and take minutes of public meetings as required by FOIA are violations of FOIA. Only a court may rule on whether any particular notice is reasonable under the circumstance for a special, emergency, or continued meeting. Once posted, notices should not be removed before the meeting occurs.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-05-19

Charges for public records are limited to reasonable charges not to exceed the public body's actual costs, but the question of whether a particular charge is reasonable may be decided only by a court.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-04-19

Section 54.1-108 provides that certain license applications and scoring records, among other records, are not subject to disclosure under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. This opinion considers a dispute regarding the redaction of applicant names from records related to the application and scoring process.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-03-19

Records concerning identifiable individual students, including individual students' test scores, are scholastic records that are exempt from mandatory disclosure under FOIA. The redaction of a student's name and other personal information does not necessarily make a scholastic record a nonexempt record that must be disclosed under FOIA as the record may still contain information about the specific individual, whether identified by name or not.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-02-19

A public body engaged in dispute resolution proceedings may hold closed meetings under the exemptions for discussion of actual or probable litigation and consultation with legal counsel on specific legal matters. However, it does not appear that FOIA or the various laws concerning dispute resolution have considered or addressed situations where two or more public bodies wish to hold a joint meeting for the purpose of dispute resolution. There are also applicable records exemptions for certain records of dispute resolution proceedings both within FOIA and outside of FOIA in statutes that specifically address such dispute resolution proceedings.

FOI Advisory Council opinion AO-01-19

Access to health records is addressed by FOIA and other specific laws outside of FOIA. Where the laws differ, the more specific provisions are controlling.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-07-18

Application forms for medical cannabis pharmaceutical processor permits that are maintained by the Board of Pharmacy are not subject to the disclosure requirements of FOIA pursuant to § 54.1-108.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-06-18

It is possible that electronic mail message headers could include legal advice and information protected by the attorney-client privilege exempt from mandatory disclosure pursuant to subsection 2 of § 2.2-3705.2. That exemption includes advice from legal counsel to officers of a public body as well as employees of the public body, and does not place a limit on how many officers or employees of the public body may receive the advice at one time. It is also possible that electronic mail message headers could include information describing the design, function, operation, or access control features of a security system that would be exempt from mandatory disclosure pursuant to subsection 2 of § 2.2-3405.1. 
 

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-05-18

A custodian may require a requester of public records to provide his legal name and address and may attempt to verify that a requester is a citizen of the Commonwealth, a representative of newspapers and magazines with circulation in the Commonwealth, or a representative of radio and television stations broadcasting in or into the Commonwealth. Requiring a specific form of identification without an alternative for those who do not have such identification, however, restricts access to information promised by the policy of FOIA. Public bodies must make a proper motion to enter into each closed meeting, even if there are multiple closed meetings within the same open meeting.

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