02 August 2012

New filings in the ATI/UVa FOIA case

The ATI/UVa case grinds on. The latest filings are (finally) substantive on the main point at issue - what is and what is not exempt under Virginia's FOIA, though you wouldn't know that from reading the ATI press release. Nor would you gather that the main reason for why this is all taking so long is because of ATI's cowboy lawyering and the filing of irrelevant (and dismissed) motions that sought to do various end runs around the main issue (such as demanding the documents in question under discovery, then seeking to withdraw the motion, then filing another discovery request etc.). The litany of misrepresentation and time-wasting tactics is outlined clearly in the UVa response (part I, part II) (pages 2-7). More interesting are the actual arguments in UVa's response regarding exemptions to the FOIA release, of which there are 123 in the Virginia statute. It turns out that 18 states allow relatively broad exemptions similar to the Va law, which states that the following need not be released:
Data, records or information of a proprietary nature produced or collected by or for faculty or staff of public institutions of higher education,... in the conduct of or as a result of study or research on ... scientific .. or scholarly issues,... where such data, records or information has not been publicly released, published, copyrighted or patented.
The other states with similar clauses include Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and Vermont. (Notably Texas is not included). However, despite the ubiquity of this research exemption in legislation, there is very little case law to use as precedent. As we have discussed before, US federal FOIA has copious precedent to guide interpretations of exemptions, but the application of federal precedent to state cases is problematic. The UVa argument looks at case law in Ohio and Indiana, the drafting history of the Va exemption to support the argument that the 'exemplar' emails are exempt. Note that the specifics of the case are being decided on the merits of 14 example emails that were declared exempt initially by UVa, but that exist in the 'quasi-public domain' because of the UEA email hack. (This agreement was the negotiated position after the initial procedural order was vacated). Oral arguments are due in September.

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