FOIA Requests

What is FOIA?

Since 1967, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has provided the public the right to request access to records from any federal agency. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government. Federal agencies are required to disclose any information requested under the FOIA unless it falls under one of nine exemptions which protect interests such as personal privacy, national security, and law enforcement.

The State statute on public records, known as the Freedom of Information Act, was
enacted for the express purpose of providing full and complete information to all persons
about the workings of government and the acts of those who represent them as public
officials and employees, so that the people may be informed and retain control. Its
provisions must be liberally construed to carry out that purpose.
The Act applies to all State, county and municipal officers, governing bodies,
agencies, departments, boards and commissions, and any other bodies created or
primarily funded by State or local authority, unless their enabling statute specifically
exempts them from its provisions. The records covered by the Act include virtually all
documents and information retained by a public body, regardless of their form.
Public records are available to every person for inspection or copying when there
has been a request made to the custodian, and when they are not specifically exempted
from disclosure. There is no statutory requirement that the request be in writing; however
whenever possible, a written request is advisable in order to avoid misunderstandings
regarding the timing and scope of the request, and to ensure that the information sought
is stated "with reasonable specificity," as required by W. Va. Code § 29B-1-3(4). The
custodian must respond within five (5) working days by either granting the request or giving
written reasons for its denial. Citizens may be charged a reasonable fee for the costs of
While the scope of the Act is expansive and its coverage liberally construed, it does
provide specific delineated exemptions from disclosure. These exemptions are strictly
construed because the intent of the Act is disclosure and anything less than a narrow
construction of exemptions would operate to defeat this intent. The exemptions are set
forth in W. Va. Code § 29B-1-4(a), at pages 5 through 7 herein.
Any person denied the right to inspect a public record of a public body may sue the
public body in circuit court for injunctive or declaratory relief under the Freedom of
Information Act. The burden is on the public body to prove to the satisfaction of the court
that the records sought are exempt from disclosure. If successful, the person bringing the
suit may recover his or her attorney fees and court costs from the public body that denied
access to the records.
Any custodian of a public record who willfully violates the Act is guilty of a
misdemeanor, and upon conviction may be fined from $100.00 to $500.00 or imprisoned
in the county jail for up to ten (10) days, or both.