The Virginia FOIA Opinion Archive


FOI Advisory Council opinion AO-07-17

Following the policy and procedures of FOIA, all public records, including procurement records, must be disclosed upon request unless an exemption or other specific provision of law allows the records to be withheld.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-06-17

The FOIA Council's first opinion under its new executive director, Alan Gernhardt, tackles the three-day notice rule for public meetings.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-05-17

An organization, corporation, or agency in the Commonwealth that receives two-thirds (66.6%) or greater support from public funds is considered to be "supported ... principally by public funds" and therefore is a "public body" subject to FOIA. Prior opinions advised measuring an entity's level of funding at the time a request is made, but did not specify a time period to use as a measure. FOIA itself is silent on this point. We recommend using a fiscal year as the basis for determination to provide a balance between predictability in knowing whether an entity is subject to FOIA, and flexibility in recognizing changing factual circumstances.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-04-17

The Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance is (for now) a public body subject to FOIA's records and meetings provisions because it receives 68% of its funding from local government budget appropriations. Should the local government funding drop below 66% of the total budget, the alliance would cease to be a public body subject to FOIA.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-03-17

A motion to convene a closed meeting must identify the subject of the meeting, the purpose of the meeting, and the exemption(s) which allow the meeting to be closed. A motion that fails to identify the subject, or lacks any other element, is insufficient.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-02-17

FOIA prohibits voting at public meetings by secret or written ballot as well as voting by telephone or other electronic communication means. However, FOIA does not address the use of electronic voting systems that use computer software to cast, record, and publicly display the votes at a public meeting. Whether such a system comports with FOIA depends on whether it publicly displays the individual vote of each member of the public body, or merely the final vote tally.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-01-17

Opinion summarizes the requirements for responding to a request. A failure to respond to a request for public records is deemed a denial and a violation of FOIA. The statutory remedy for a violation is to file a petition for mandamus or injunction in general district or circuit court. The Newport News Economic/Industrial Development Authority is a public body subject to FOIA.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-03-16

Generally, requests for information (RFI's) are preliminary to a procurement transaction or contract negotiations, and not directly part of such transactions or negotiations. FOIA does not contain any specific exclusion from mandatory disclosure that would allow information received in response to an RFI to be withheld. Whether other exclusions apply to such information, such as those exclusions applicable to contract negotiation records or proprietary records and trade secrets, must be considered on a case-by-case basis.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-02-16

A motion to convene a closed meeting that contains a general reference to the subject matter to be discussed does not satisfy the requirement to identify the subject. If a member feels that a closed meeting discussion strays beyond the matters identified in the motion to convene, that member shall make a statement to that effect to be included in the minutes before the public body votes to certify the closed meeting. In such a situation, it is expected that the member who feels that the discussion strayed will vote against the motion to certify when the vote is called. Further, if the motion to convene a closed meeting purports to discuss a subject (or subjects) but the actual discussion is of some other topic not addressed in the motion, that would be a violation of FOIA.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-01-16

Records that have been prepared by or for the Office of the Governor for personal or deliberative use may be withheld as working papers. However, if those records are disseminated by the Office of the Governor to another agency for that agency's use in carrying out its statutory duties, then the records may not be withheld as working papers because they are no longer for personal or deliberative use of the Office of the Governor. Pursuant to subsection B of § 24.2-404, FOIA does not apply to records about individuals maintained in the voter registration system.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-08-15

Body worn and dashboard video recordings made by law enforcement are public records subject to FOIA. The application of exemptions from mandatory disclosure depends on the contents of the video. Duty to redact is in question following Virginia Supreme Court ruling in 2015.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-07-15

Generally, FOIA does not prohibit the release of public records or the exercise of free speech. FOIA does not grant special rights to elected officials that differ from those of other Virginia citizens. Real estate appraisals may be withheld until the completion of a proposed purchase, sale, or lease.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-06-15

A local governing body may not convene a closed meeting in order to discuss the salaries of the members pursuant to the personnel closed meeting exemption.

FOi Advisory Council Opinion AO-05-15

Meeting minutes must include a summary of the discussion on matters proposed, deliberated or decided, and a record of any votes taken. A verbatim transcript is not required. A public body has the discretion to include specific comments made at the meeting or not so long as the minutes include the required summary and record of votes.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-04-15

A public body does not have to create a new record that does not already exist, but may abstract or summarize information under such terms and conditions as agreed between the requester and the public body. Clear and concise communications are critical when making and responding to requests.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-03-15

The Office of Executive Secretary by statute operates and maintains a case management system, the operation and maintenance of the system is the transaction of OES' public business, and therefore OES' case management records are public records subject to FOIA. By operation of law, the respective clerks also remain custodians of those records, and they bear responsibility for maintaining the integrity of those records.  To the extent that OES owns or possesses such data, it is also a custodian of such records and likewise responsible to respond to a request for it under FOIA.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-02-15

Whether a record is exempt as a "working paper" depends on the purpose for which it was created, the person for whom it was created, and whether it has been disseminated beyond the personal or deliberative use of the official who holds the exemption.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-01-15

A private entity that exercises no governmental authority and is not wholly or principally supported by government funds is not a public body subject to FOIA's records and meeting requirements. Money received by a private entity from government sources under a procurement contract should not be used to determine whether an entity is wholly or principally supported by public funds.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-06-14

Public bodies have five working days to respond to a request for public records, and may invoke an additional seven working days to respond. The statutory remedy for a FOIA violation is to file a petition for mandamus or injunction supported by an affidavit showing good cause. Only a court may decide upon the appropriate remedy in each case.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-05-14

Requesters and public bodies may reach their own agreements on the terms of production of public records. Such agreements should address any variations in response timing and charges to which the parties agree.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-04-14

Suicide reports and related records may be withheld as criminal investigative files because suicide remains a crime in Virginia. To the extent it conflicts with this opinion, AO-10-03 is hereby rescinded.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-02-14

FOIA does not define the term "custodian," but for FOIA purposes, generally the custodian is the person in charge of public records. Each public body may designate who is to act as custodian of its public records. FOIA does not apply to records that are not public records in the transaction of public business.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-01-14

This opinion discusses the use of the contract negotiations and economic development records exemptions. FOIA allows a records custodian to disclose exempt records in his discretion. FOIA does not require a custodian to engage in a balancing test in exercising that discretion, or to justify or explain a decision not to disclose exempt records.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-08-13

FOIA Council weighs in on availability of date of birth information held by law enforcement agencies.

FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-07-13

A committee or advisory group of a public body that performs a delegated function or advises the public body is itself a public body. A committee or advisory group created by an individual to advise that individual is not a public body. In either case, however, records prepared, owned, or possessed by the committee or advisory group in the transaction of public business are public records subject to FOIA.