WV Freedom of Information Act
Overview of the Act
Declared legal intention
The declared legal intention of the West Virginia law states:
“Pursuant to the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government which holds to the principle that government is the servant of the people, and not the master of them, it is hereby declared to be the public policy of the state of West Virginia that all persons are, unless otherwise expressly provided by law, entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and employees. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments of government they have created. To that end, the provisions of this article shall be liberally construed with the view of carrying out the above declaration of public policy.”
What records are covered?
West Virginia law defines records as “any writing containing information relating to the conduct of the public’s business, prepared, owned and retained by a public body”.
Notable exemptions include but are not limited to:
- Trade secrets
- Personal information
- Law enforcement investigations
- Archaeological and historic sites
- Financial investigations
- Internal memoranda
- Security information for individuals infrastructure and electronics
What agencies are covered?
West Virginia law defines agencies as all branches of government at both the state and local levels and all bodies created by those branches or funded by public money.
The legislature falls under the definition of public body found at West Virginia Code, 29B-1-2 and is subject to the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
Privatized governmental agencies
The West Virginia law includes all private agencies that receive public funds or were created by a public agency.
The definition of public body presumably includes public universities within the state. However, testing and exam material are explicitly exempted under West Virginia Code, 29B-1-4.
Who may request records?
Anyone may request public records in West Virginia. The law explicitly states that “every person has a right to inspect or copy any public record of a public body in this state.”
Must a purpose be stated?
The law does not require a statement of purpose.
How can records be used?
The law does not restrict the use of open records.
Time allowed for response
West Virginia law allows for 5 business days for records request responses.
Fees for records
West Virginia law allows for the charging of fees to reimburse the department for the cost of making the records but does not specify what factors affect those fees.
The West Virginia law is silent as to what factors can be added to constitute the cost of making a record available.
Role of the Attorney General
Although the state’s Freedom of Information Act does not specifically mention the State Attorney General’s role in the enforcement of the law, § 6-9A-12 of the West Virginia Code, under the West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings Act, “it is the duty of the attorney general to compile the statutory and case law pertaining to this article and to prepare appropriate summaries and interpretations for the purpose of informing all public officials subject to this article of the requirements of this article.”
Text of the Act
CHAPTER 29B. FREEDOM OF INFORMATION.
ARTICLE 1. PUBLIC RECORDS.
§29B-1-1. Declaration of policy.
Pursuant to the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government which holds to the principle that government is the servant of the people, and not the master of them, it is hereby declared to be the public policy of the state of West Virginia that all persons are, unless otherwise expressly provided by law, entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and employees. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments of government they have created. To that end, the provisions of this article shall be liberally construed with the view of carrying out the above declaration of public policy.
As used in this article:
(1) “Custodian” means the elected or appointed official charged with administering a public body.
(2) “Person” includes any natural person, corporation, partnership, firm or association.
(3) “Public body” means every state officer, agency, department, including the executive, legislative and judicial departments, division, bureau, board and commission; every county and city governing body, school district, special district, municipal corporation, and any board, department, commission council or agency thereof; and any other body which is created by state or local authority or which is primarily funded by the state or local authority.
(4) “Public record” includes any writing containing information relating to the conduct of the public’s business, prepared, owned and retained by a public body.
(5) “Writing” includes any books, papers, maps, photographs, cards, tapes, recordings or other documentary materials regardless of physical form or characteristics.
§29B-1-3. Inspection and copying.
(1) Every person has a right to inspect or copy any public record of a public body in this state, except as otherwise expressly provided by section four of this article.
(2) A request to inspect or copy any public record of a public body shall be made directly to the custodian of such public record.
(3) The custodian of any public records, unless otherwise expressly provided by statute, shall furnish proper and reasonable opportunities for inspection and examination of the records in his or her office and reasonable facilities for making memoranda or abstracts therefrom, during the usual business hours, to all persons having occasion to make examination of them. The custodian of the records may make reasonable rules and regulations necessary for the protection of the records and to prevent interference with the regular discharge of his or her duties. If the records requested exist in magnetic, electronic or computer form, the custodian of the records shall make such copies available on magnetic or electronic media, if so requested.
(4) All requests for information must state with reasonable specificity the information sought. The custodian, upon demand for records made under this statute, shall as soon as is practicable but within a maximum of five days not including Saturdays, Sundays or legal holidays:
(a) Furnish copies of the requested information;
(b) Advise the person making the request of the time and place at which he or she may inspect and copy the materials; or
(c) Deny the request stating in writing the reasons for such denial.
Such a denial shall indicate that the responsibility of the custodian of any public records or public body to produce the requested records or documents is at an end, and shall afford the person requesting them the opportunity to institute proceedings for injunctive or declaratory relief in the circuit court in the county where the public record is kept.
(5) The public body may establish fees reasonably calculated to reimburse it for its actual cost in making reproductions of such records.
(a) The following categories of information are specifically exempt from disclosure under the provisions of this article:
(1) Trade secrets, as used in this section, which may include, but are not limited to, any formula, plan pattern, process, tool, mechanism, compound, procedure, production data or compilation of information which is not patented which is known only to certain individuals within a commercial concern who are using it to fabricate, produce or compound an article or trade or a service or to locate minerals or other substances, having commercial value, and which gives its users an opportunity to obtain business advantage over competitors;
(2) Information of a personal nature such as that kept in a personal, medical or similar file, if the public disclosure thereof would constitute an unreasonable invasion of privacy, unless the public interest by clear and convincing evidence requires disclosure in the particular instance: Provided, That nothing in this article shall be construed as precluding an individual from inspecting or copying his or her own personal, medical or similar file;
(3) Test questions, scoring keys and other examination data used to administer a licensing examination, examination for employment or academic examination;
(4) Records of law-enforcement agencies that deal with the detection and investigation of crime and the internal records and notations of such law-enforcement agencies which are maintained for internal use in matters relating to law enforcement;
(5) Information specifically exempted from disclosure by statute;
(6) Records, archives, documents or manuscripts describing the location of undeveloped historic, prehistoric, archaeological, paleontological and battlefield sites or constituting gifts to any public body upon which the donor has attached restrictions on usage or the handling of which could irreparably damage such record, archive, document or manuscript;
(7) Information contained in or related to examination, operating or condition reports prepared by, or on behalf of, or for the use of any agency responsible for the regulation or supervision of financial institutions, except those reports which are by law required to be published in newspapers;
(8) Internal memoranda or letters received or prepared by any public body;
(9) Records assembled, prepared or maintained to prevent, mitigate or respond to terrorist acts or the threat of terrorist acts, the public disclosure of which threaten the public safety or the public health;
(10) Those portions of records containing specific or unique vulnerability assessments or specific or unique response plans, data, databases and inventories of goods or materials collected or assembled to respond to terrorist acts; and communication codes or deployment plans of law enforcement or emergency response personnel;
(11) Specific intelligence information and specific investigative records dealing with terrorist acts or the threat of a terrorist act shared by and between federal and international law-enforcement agencies, state and local law enforcement and other agencies within the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety;
(12) National security records classified under federal executive order and not subject to public disclosure under federal law that are shared by federal agencies and other records related to national security briefings to assist state and local government with domestic preparedness for acts of terrorism;
(13) Computing, telecommunications and network security records, passwords, security codes or programs used to respond to or plan against acts of terrorism which may be the subject of a terrorist act;
(14) Security or disaster recovery plans, risk assessments, tests or the results of those tests;
(15) Architectural or infrastructure designs, maps or other records that show the location or layout of the facilities where computing, telecommunications or network infrastructure used to plan against or respond to terrorism are located or planned to be located;
(16) Codes for facility security systems; or codes for secure applications for such facilities referred to in subdivision (15) of this subsection;
(17) Specific engineering plans and descriptions of existing public utility plants and equipment;
(18) Customer proprietary network information of other telecommunications carriers, equipment manufacturers and individual customers, consistent with 47 U.S.C. §222; and
(19) Records of the Division of Corrections, Regional Jail Authority and the Division of Juvenile Services relating to design of corrections, jail and detention facilities owned or operated by the agency, and the policy directives and operational procedures of personnel relating to the safe and secure management of inmates or residents, that if released, could be utilized by an inmate or resident to escape a facility, or to cause injury to another inmate, resident or to facility personnel.
(b) As used in subdivisions (9) through (16), inclusive, subsection (a) of this section, the term “terrorist act” means an act that is likely to result in serious bodily injury or damage to property or the environment and is intended to:
(1) Intimidate or coerce the civilian population;
(2) Influence the policy of a branch or level of government by intimidation or coercion;
(3) Affect the conduct of a branch or level of government by intimidation or coercion; or
(4) Retaliate against a branch or level of government for a policy or conduct of the government.
(c) Nothing in the provisions of subdivisions (9) through (16), inclusive, subsection (a) of this section should be construed to make subject to the provisions of this chapter any evidence of an immediate threat to public health or safety unrelated to a terrorist act or the threat thereof which comes to the attention of a public entity in the course of conducting a vulnerability assessment response or similar activity. §29B-1-5. Enforcement.
(1) Any person denied the right to inspect the public record of a public body may institute proceedings for injunctive or declaratory relief in the circuit court in the county where the public record is kept.
(2) In any suit filed under subsection one of this section, the court has jurisdiction to enjoin the custodian or public body from withholding records and to order the production of any records improperly withheld from the person seeking disclosure. The court shall determine the matter de novo and the burden is on the public body to sustain its action. The court, on its own motion, may view the documents in controversy in camera before reaching a decision. Any custodian of any public records of the public body found to be in noncompliance with the order of the court to produce the documents or disclose the information sought, may be punished as being in contempt of court.
(3) Except as to causes the court considers of greater importance, proceedings arising under subsection one of this section shall be assigned for hearing and trial at the earliest practicable date.
§29B-1-6. Violation of article; penalties.
Any custodian of any public records who willfully violates the provisions of this article is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not less than two hundred dollars nor more than one thousand dollars, or be imprisoned in the county jail for not more than twenty days, or, in the discretion of the court, by both fine and imprisonment.
§29B-1-7. Attorney fees and costs.
Any person who is denied access to public records requested pursuant to this article and who successfully brings a suit filed pursuant to section five of this article shall be entitled to recover his or her attorney fees and court costs from the public body that denied him or her access to the records.