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Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

(This statement of Rights and Responsibilities is made by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) on behalf of itself and all public bodies within the agency  that are subject to (i) the requirement contained in § 2.2-3704.1 of the Code of Virginia pertaining to making available to the public a notice of rights and responsibilities with regard to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act and posting a link to such information on the agency’s homepage of its website and (ii) the requirement contained in § 2.2-3704.2 of the Code of Virginia to designate and publicly identify one or more Freedom of Information Act officers.)

The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), § 2.2-3700 et seq. of the Code of Virginia, guarantees citizens of the Commonwealth and representatives of the media access to public records held by public bodies, public officials, and public employees.

A public record is any writing or recording -- regardless of whether it is a paper record, an electronic file, an audio or video recording, or any other format -- that is prepared or owned by, or in the possession of, a public body or its officers, employees, or agents in the transaction of public business. All public records are presumed to be open and may only be withheld if a specific statutory exemption applies.

The purpose of FOIA is to promote an increased awareness by all persons of governmental activities. In furthering this policy, FOIA requires that the law be interpreted liberally and in favor of access and that any exemption allowing public records to be withheld must be interpreted narrowly.

Your FOIA Rights

  • You have the right to request to inspect or receive copies of public records, or both.
  • You have the right to request that any charges for the requested records be estimated in advance.
  • If you believe that your FOIA rights have been violated, you may file a petition in district or circuit court to compel compliance with FOIA.  Alternatively, you may contact the FOIA Council for a nonbinding advisory opinion.

Requesting Records from VDACS

  • You may request records by U.S. mail, fax, e-mail, in person, or telephone. FOIA does not require that your request be in writing nor that you specifically state that you are requesting records under FOIA. From a practical perspective, it may be helpful to both you and the person receiving your request to put your request in writing. This allows you to create a record of your request. It also gives us a clear statement of what records you are requesting, so that there is no misunderstanding over a verbal request. However, we cannot refuse to respond to your FOIA request if you elect not to put it in writing.
  • Your request must identify the records you are seeking with "reasonable specificity." It does not refer to or limit the volume or number of records that you are requesting; instead, it requires that you be specific enough so that we can identify and locate the records that you are seeking.
  • Your request must ask for existing records or documents. FOIA gives you a right to inspect or copy records; it does not apply to a situation where you are asking general questions about the work of VDACS, nor does it require VDACS to create a record that does not exist.
  • You may choose to receive electronic records in any format used by VDACS in the regular course of business. For example, if you are requesting records maintained in a database or spreadsheet, you may elect to receive those records electronically, via e-mail or on a computer disk, or to receive a printed copy of those records.
  • If we have questions about your request, please cooperate with staff's efforts to clarify the type of records that you are seeking or to attempt to reach a reasonable agreement about a response to a large request. Making a FOIA request is not an adversarial process, but we may need to discuss your request with you to ensure that we understand what records you are seeking.
To request records from VDACS, you may direct your request to one of the FOIA officers listed below. You may also contact these FOIA officers with questions you have concerning requesting records from VDACS. In addition, the Freedom of Information Advisory Council is available to answer any questions you may have about FOIA. The Council may be contacted by email at foiacouncil@dls.virginia.gov or by phone at 804.225.3056 or (toll free) at 866.448.4100.

For records of the Division of Animal and Food Industry Services, which generally include records related to inspections, contact:
David McGreevy 
102 Governor Street 
Richmond, VA 23219
david.mcgreevy@vdacs.virginia.gov
Tel. 804.692.0601
Fax 804.371.2380

For records of the Division of Consumer Protection, which generally include records related to inspections and regulant licensure or registration, contact:
Kay Wyatt 
102 Governor Street
Richmond, VA 23219 
kay.wyatt@vdacs.virginia.gov 
Tel. 804.786.3523 
Fax 804.371.7479

For records of the Division of Marketing and Development, which generally include records related to licensure, grant applications and agreements, grading/inspections, and commodity boards, contact:
Ernest L. Knicely, Jr. 
102 Governor Street 
Richmond, VA 23219 
el.knicely@vdacs.virginia.gov 
Tel. 804.786.0480 
Fax 804.225.4434

For records of the Office of Administrative and Financial Services, which generally include records related to agency contracts, policies, budget, and finance, contact:
Jennifer Cavedo 
102 Governor Street 
Richmond, VA 23219 
jennifer.cavedo@vdacs.virginia.gov
Tel. 804.786.3532 
Fax 804.371.8372

For records of the Office of Communications, which generally include records related to media releases, media issues, and media inquiries, contact:
Elaine J. Lidholm 
102 Governor Street 
Richmond, VA 23219 
elaine.lidholm@vdacs.virginia.gov 
Tel. 804.786.7686 
Fax 804.371.7679

For records of the Office of Human Resources, which generally include personnel records, contact:
Linda Cole 
102 Governor Street 
Richmond, VA 23219
linda.cole@vdacs.virginia.gov 
Tel. 804.371.7719
Fax 804.371.8879

For records of the Milk Commission, which generally include records related to milk production and sales, contact:
Crafton Wilkes 
102 Governor Street 
Richmond, VA 23219
crafton.wilkes@vdacs.virginia.gov 
Tel. 804.786.2013 
Fax 804.371.8700

For all other records, contact:
Kevin Schmidt 
102 Governor Street 
Richmond, VA 23219 
kevin.schmidt@vdacs.virginia.gov 
Tel. 804.786.1346 
Fax 804.371.7679

VDACS Responsibilities in Responding to Your Request

  • VDACS must respond to your request within five working days of receiving it. "Day One" is considered the day after your request is received. The five-day period does not include weekends or holidays.
  • The reason behind your request for public records from VDACS is irrelevant, and you do not have to state why you want the records before we respond to your request. FOIA does, however, allow VDACS to ask you to provide your name and legal address.
  • FOIA requires that VDACS make one of the following responses to your request within the five-day time period:
  1. We provide you with the records that you have requested in their entirety.
  2. We withhold all of the records that you have requested, because all of the records are subject to a specific statutory exemption. If all of the records are being withheld, we must send you a response in writing. That writing must identify the volume and subject matter of the records being withheld and state the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows us to withhold the records.
  3. We provide some of the records that you have requested but withhold other records. We cannot withhold an entire record if only a portion of it is subject to an exemption. In that instance, we may redact the portion of the record that may be withheld and must provide you with the remainder of the record. We must provide you with a written response stating the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows portions of the requested records to be withheld.
  4. We inform you in writing that the requested records cannot be found or do not exist (we do not have the records you want).  However, if we know that another public body has the requested records, we must include contact information for the other public body in our response to you.
  5. If it is practically impossible for VDACS to respond to your request within the five-day period, we must state this in writing, explaining the conditions that make the response impossible. This will allow us seven additional working days to respond to your request, giving us a total of 12 working days to respond to your request.
  • If you make a request for a very large number of records, and we feel that we cannot provide the records to you within 12 days without disrupting our other organizational responsibilities, we may petition the court for additional time to respond to your request. However, FOIA requires that we make a reasonable effort to reach an agreement with you concerning the production of the records before we go to court to ask for more time.

Costs

  • A public body may make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the requested records. No public body shall impose any extraneous, intermediary, or surplus fees or expenses to recoup the general costs associated with creating or maintaining records or transacting the general business of the public body. Any duplicating fee charged by a public body shall not exceed the actual cost of duplication. All charges for the supplying of requested records shall be estimated in advance at the request of the citizen as set forth in subsection F of § 2.2-3704 of the Code of Virginia.
  • You may have to pay for the records that you request from VDACS. FOIA allows us to charge for the actual costs of responding to FOIA requests. This would include items such as staff time spent searching for the requested records, copying costs, or any other costs directly related to supplying the requested records. It cannot include general overhead costs.
  • If we estimate that it will cost more than $200 to respond to your request, we may require you to pay a deposit, not to exceed the amount of the estimate, before proceeding with your request. The five days that we have to respond to your request does not include the time between when we ask for a deposit and when you respond.
  • You may request that we estimate in advance the charges for supplying the records that you have requested. This will allow you to know about any costs up front, or give you the opportunity to modify your request in an attempt to lower the estimated costs.
  • If you owe us money from a previous FOIA request that has remained unpaid for more than 30 days, VDACS may require payment of the past-due bill before we will respond to your new FOIA request.

Commonly Used Exemptions

The Code of Virginia allows any public body to withhold certain records from public disclosure. VDACS commonly withholds records subject to the following exemptions:

  • Section 2.2-3705.1(1) relating to personnel records
  • Section 2.2-3705.1(2) relating to records subject to attorney-client privilege
  • Section 2.2-3705.7(2) relating to working papers and correspondence of the Office of the Governor
  • Section 2.2-4342 relating to records relating to procurement transactions
  • Section 3.2-103 requiring the Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services to withhold the following records:
  1. Schedules of work for regulatory inspection;
  2. Trade secrets and commercial or financial information supplied by individuals or business entities to the Department;
  3. Reports of criminal violations made to the Department by persons outside the Department;
  4. Records of active investigations until the investigations are closed;
  5. Financial records of applicants for assistance from the Virginia Farm Loan Revolving Account except those records that are otherwise a matter of public record; and
  6. Tax returns required by the agricultural commodity boards established pursuant to this title to the extent necessary to protect the privacy of individual taxpayers.
  • Section 3.2-3908 relating to trade secrets and other information pursuant to the Virginia Pesticide Control Act.

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