In a weak ruling that essentially skirts the root issue completely, the Virginia Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the University of Virginia. This means that information regarding publicly funded research conducted at this university (regardless of who the researcher is) does not ever have to be released. In effect, this ruling allows questionable, corrupt, or outright fraudulent research using public funds to be conducted by a researcher at the University of Virginia without any fear of public accountability. Hence, the destruction of any and all information related to the parties in this case, as well as in other similar situations at the university, will now begin.
The public will never know exactly what the situation is with this particular research and therefore, in my view, the work of such researchers should be ignored. There is good reason for public accountability for publicly funded research and now such accountability does not exist at the University of Virginia. (Remember, this issue cuts both ways politically, and this is not a political statement, but a statement of fact.)
130934 American Tradition Inst. v. University of Virginia 04/17/2014
The circuit court was correct in denying a request for disclosure of certain documents under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. The purpose of the higher education research exemption under Code § 2.2-3705.4(4) for “information of a proprietary nature” is to avoid competitive harm, not limited to financial matters. The definition of “proprietary” in prior case law, that it is “a right customarily associated with ownership, title, and possession, an interest or a right of one who exercises dominion over a thing or property, of one who manages and controls,” is consistent with that goal and the circuit court did not err in applying that definition. Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the university that prevailed below, it produced sufficient evidence to meet each of the higher education research exemption’s seven requirements. Also, in the context of the Code § 2.2-3704(F) provision allowing a public entity to make reasonable charges for its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying or searching for requested records, “searching” includes inquiry into whether a disputed document can be released under federal or state law, and this statute permits a public body to charge a reasonable fee for exclusion review. The circuit court’s judgment excluding disputed documents and approving such cost recovery is affirmed, and final judgment is entered in favor of the university.
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