Non-Virginians Have No Right to Make FOI Requests, Court Says

Non-Virginian citizens have no right to request public records from Virginia agencies, the 4th Circuit ruled, upholding the constitutionality of the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

Mark McBurney currently lives in Rhode Island, but he was divorced in Virginia and filed for child custody and child support in Virginia. After the Virginia Division of Child Support Enforcement took nine months to file a child-support petition on his behalf, he asked the department to reveal how it processed his petition and why the delay occurred.

Since McBurney is not a citizen of Virginia, however, the agency rejected his request under the state Freedom of Information Act.

Roger Hurlbert, a citizen of California, was similarly denied access to Virginia assessment records of certain real estate parcels. Hurlbert claimed that his business depended on procuring public records for his clients.

In a federal complaint, McBurney and Hurlbert claimed that the state law’s “citizens only provision” constitutes impermissible discrimination.

Finding that the law did not infringe on either man’s rights, a federal judge in Richmond awarded summary judgment to the officials of Virginia’s Child Support Enforcement division and Henrico County’s Real Estate Assessment Division.

Several First Amendment watchdog groups and media outlets supported McBurney and Hurlbert in their appeals, but a three-judge panel affirmed the lower court’s decision without considering many of these arguments.

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