Virginia School Board Sues FOIA Recipients For Receiving FOIA'ed Documents It Handed To Them

from the nice-gov't-work-if-you-can-get-it dept

Yeah, it can suck when you fail to handle FOIA requests properly and give the public more information than you intended to. It sucks for the government. It doesn’t suck for the public, which is rarely treated to anything more than the most minimal of transparency.

Unfortunately, government agencies don’t always react well when they’ve screwed things up. Sometimes the blowback is limited to ineffectual shouting or paper waving. Sometimes, however, it’s a lawsuit seeking a court order to prevent people from accessing (or sharing) documents they’ve legally obtained from a government agency.

Cut to Virginia, where it’s the latter option being deployed:

A Virginia school board is suing two mothers, arguing that documents “inadvertently and mistakenly” released through a Freedom of Information Act request and shared online included confidential information.

The Goldwater Institute on Thursday filed a motion with a Virginia judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Fairfax County School Board against Debra Tisler, who obtained documents from the board through a Freedom of Information Act request, and Callie Oettinger, who shared the redacted documents on her website.

The lawsuit [PDF] claims the Fairfax County Public School Board never meant to release the information it released, which included personal information about students. Federal law forbids the release of this information to unauthorized parties by government agencies.

But that means nothing in the context of this lawsuit. The School Board can be held liable by others for releasing this information. The recipients of this information did nothing wrong, despite the litigious protestations otherwise. The complaint is mostly a list of what the Board did wrong, including failing to subject the FOIA release to review by its legal counsel before sending a link to the Dropbox file to the records requesters.

To correct this, the Board repeatedly contacted the recipient. And it was continually ignored… up until it sent multiple physical notifications, at which point the recipient of all of these notifications told the School Board to stop harassing her.

Copies of these documents were posted publicly, but sensitive student data was redacted by the recipients. The Board felt this wasn’t enough of a capitulation, so it took legal action, which then resulted in the removal of the files from the recipient’s website.

The Board claims in its filing that it has a legal right to go back in time and undo its mistakes by forcing the FOIA requesters to basically pretend they never received the unredacted information. The Goldwater Institute has stepped in to represent the records requesters and its opposition motion [PDF] points out just how wrong the Board is about the law and the First Amendment.

Only the most pressing government interest—such as the publication of troop movements during wartime—can justify the imposition of such a restraint. Id. at 726 (Brennan, J., concurring). But no such interest is identified in the board’s Complaint or its motion for an injunction. On the contrary, the sole bases it asserts for blocking Ms. Oettinger and Ms. Tisler from disseminating the information are the fact that the board could have chosen to withhold some of this information under the VFOIA (though it did not do so), and that some of the documents could be covered by attorney-client privilege between the board and its attorneys. Complaint ¶¶ 40, 44. That is constitutionally insufficient and irrelevant.

The Board’s demands are unconstitutional and there is no precedent that says otherwise.

They are government records, lawfully obtained, and Ms. Tisler and Ms. Oettinger have a right to disseminate them, as protected by the rule of Smith, New York Times, and Bartnicki. Even if the documents were inadvertently turned over, they have both a constitutional right and a legitimate democratic purpose for publishing them. For the government to demand that the documents be removed from publication—i.e., censored—is contrary to all constitutional precedent.

None of that precendent appears to matter to the court. It has already granted the Board’s injunction.

Last week, a state judge issued an order barring the women from sharing the documents pending further order of the court, and Oettinger subsequently took the documents off her website.

Hopefully now that an adversarial party has entered the legal battle, the court will be forced to reconsider its granting of this injunction. The government should not be allowed to use courts like time machines to erase its mistakes. It should have to live with them, especially when the inadvertently-released documents deal with issues of public interest, like public school spending. The Board’s arguments are mostly admissions of wrongdoing on its own part for which it should be held accountable. Instead it has asked the court to punish people who’ve done nothing wrong.

Filed Under: , , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Virginia School Board Sues FOIA Recipients For Receiving FOIA'ed Documents It Handed To Them”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
10 Comments
That Anonymous Cowardsays:

stares

Maybe ask the Dept. of Education to submit a brief about how the school board no longer has standing since they are about to sued out of existence for their complete failure of their duties to protect student information.

Again its one of those rulings that should generate a review to see if the Judge is brain damaged or not.

The moms cared more about protecting the students then that school board did, yet are being punished for the school board caviler attitude.

And just because, someone might want to FOIA the names of everyone who has had an answered FOIA request… this isn’t going to be the first time someone cut corners.

Bergmansays:

Re:

Sued? The school board are public officials who conspired, under color of law, to deprive their students of a statutory right in the form of that federal privacy law.

Every student’s parents ought to file a criminal complaint with the FBI for that federal felony the board confessed to in their civil court filing – one felony count per student’s rights violated, and because it’s a conspiracy, ALL board members are equally guilty of all charges.

https://www.justice.gov/crt/conspiracy-against-rights

Furthermore, by violating that privacy law, the board technically committed the same crime Edward Snowden did – unlawful release of confidential documents in a manner that exposed their contents to agents of hostile foreign nations. But unlike Snowden, the members of the board aren’t whistleblowers.

Bergmansays:

Re:

Sued? The school board are public officials who conspired, under color of law, to deprive their students of a statutory right in the form of that federal privacy law.

Every student’s parents ought to file a criminal complaint with the FBI for that federal felony the board confessed to in their civil court filing – one felony count per student’s rights violated, and because it’s a conspiracy, ALL board members are equally guilty of all charges.

https://www.justice.gov/crt/conspiracy-against-rights

Furthermore, by violating that privacy law, the board technically committed the same crime Edward Snowden did – unlawful release of confidential documents in a manner that exposed their contents to agents of hostile foreign nations. But unlike Snowden, the members of the board aren’t whistleblowers.

Leave a Reply to Anonymous Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...
Older Stuff
13:40 It's Great That Winnie The Pooh Is In The Public Domain; But He Should Have Been Free In 1982 (Or Earlier) (35)
12:06 Norton 360 Now Comes With Crypto Mining Capabilities And Sketchy Removal Process (28)
10:45 Chinese Government Dragnet Now Folding In American Social Media Platforms To Silence Dissent (14)
10:40 Daily Deal: The 2022 Ultimate Cybersecurity Analyst Preparation Bundle (0)
09:29 A Fight Between Facebook And The British Medical Journal Highlights The Difficulty Of Moderating 'Medical Misinformation' (9)
06:29 Court Ruling Paves The Way For Better, More Reliable Wi-Fi (4)
20:12 Eighth Circuit (Again) Says There's Nothing Wrong With Detaining Innocent Minors At Gunpoint (15)
15:48 China's Regulatory War On Its Gaming Industry Racks Up 14k Casualties (10)
13:31 Chinese Government Fines Local Car Dealerships For Surveilling While Not Being The Government (5)
12:08 Eric Clapton Pretends To Regret The Decision To Sue Random German Woman Who Listed A Bootleg Of One Of His CDs On Ebay (29)
10:44 ICE Is So Toxic That The DHS's Investigative Wing Is Asking To Be Completely Separated From It (29)
10:39 Daily Deal: The 2022 Complete Raspberry Pi And Arduino Developer Bundle (0)
09:31 Google Blocked An Article About Police From The Intercept... Because The Title Included A Phrase That Was Also A Movie Title (24)
06:22 Wireless Carriers Balk At FAA Demand For 5G Deployment Delays Amid Shaky Safety Concerns (16)
19:53 Tenth Circuit Denies Qualified Immunity To Social Worker Who Fabricated A Mother's Confession Of Child Abuse (35)
15:39 Sci-Hub's Creator Thinks Academic Publishers, Not Her Site, Are The Real Threat To Science, And Says: 'Any Law Against Knowledge Is Fundamentally Unjust' (34)
13:32 Federal Court Tells Proud Boys Defendants That Raiding The Capitol Building Isn't Covered By The First Amendment (25)
12:14 US Courts Realizing They Have A Judge Alan Albright Sized Problem In Waco (17)
10:44 Boston Police Department Used Forfeiture Funds To Hide Purchase Of Surveillance Tech From City Reps (16)
10:39 Daily Deal: The Ultimate Microsoft Excel Training Bundle (0)
09:20 NY Senator Proposes Ridiculously Unconstitutional Social Media Law That Is The Mirror Opposite Of Equally Unconstitutional Laws In Florida & Texas (25)
06:12 Telecom Monopolies Are Exploiting Crappy U.S. Broadband Maps To Block Community Broadband Grant Requests (7)
12:00 Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of 2021 At Techdirt (17)
10:00 Gaming Like It's 1926: Join The Fourth Annual Public Domain Game Jam (6)
09:00 New Year's Message: The Arc Of The Moral Universe Is A Twisty Path (33)
19:39 DHS, ICE Begin Body Camera Pilot Program With Surprisingly Good Policies In Place (7)
15:29 Remembering Techdirt Contributors Sherwin And Elliot (1)
13:32 DC Metro PD's Powerful Review Panel Keeps Giving Bad Cops Their Jobs Back (6)
12:11 Missouri Governor Still Expects Journalists To Be Prosecuted For Showing How His Admin Leaked Teacher Social Security Numbers (39)
10:48 Oversight Board Overturning Instagram Takedown Of Ayahuasca Post Demonstrates The Impossibility Of Content Moderation (10)
More arrow
This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it