FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA
Mr. Mark R. Henne
The staff of the
Freedom of Information Advisory Council is authorized to issue
advisory opinions. The ensuing staff opinion is based solely
on the information presented in our telephone conversation
of October 5, 2000.
Dear Mr. Henne:
This will confirm
our telephone conversation of this date concerning the release
of business license tax information. Specifically, you ask
for a written advisory opinion whether, under the Virginia
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), records in the possession
of the treasurer related to local license taxes assessed in
accordance with Chapter 37 (§ 58.1-3700 et seq.) of Title
58.1 may be released.
Generally, FOIA requires
that all public records be open to inspection and copying
by any citizen of the Commonwealth, except where FOIA provides
an exemption from its application or where such disclosure
is prohibited by law (see §§ 2.1-342 and 2.1-342.01).
Subdivision A2 of
§ 2.1-342.01 provides an exemption for state income, business,
and estate tax returns, personal property tax returns, scholastic
and confidential records held pursuant to § 58.1-3.
Section 58.1-3 provides,
A. Except in
accordance with a proper judicial order or as otherwise
provided by law, the Tax Commissioner or agent, clerk,
commissioner of the revenue, treasurer, or any other
state or local tax or revenue officer or employee, or
any former officer or employee of any of the aforementioned
offices shall not divulge any information acquired by
him in the performance of his duties with respect to the
transactions, property, including personal property, income
or business of any person, firm or corporation. Such
prohibition specifically includes any copy of a federal
return or federal return information required by Virginia
law to be attached to or included in the Virginia return.
Any person violating the provisions of this section shall
be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor. The provisions of
this subsection shall not be applicable, however, to:
required by law to be entered on any public assessment
roll or book;
2. Acts performed
or words spoken or published in the line of duty under
B. Nothing contained
in this section shall be construed to prohibit the publication
of statistics so classified as to prevent the identification
of particular reports or returns and the items thereof
or the publication of delinquent lists showing the names
of taxpayers who are currently delinquent, together with
any relevant information which in the opinion of the Department
may assist in the collection of such delinquent taxes.
This section shall not be construed to prohibit a local
tax official from disclosing whether a person, firm or
corporation is licensed to do business in that locality
and divulging, upon written request, the name and address
of any person, firm or corporation transacting business
under a fictitious name. Additionally, notwithstanding
any other provision of law, the commissioner of revenue
is authorized to provide, upon written request stating
the reason for such request, the Tax Commissioner with
information obtained from local tax returns and other
information pertaining to the income, sales and property
of any person, firm or corporation licensed to do business
in that locality. (Emphasis added)
As I read the above
sections, the release of local license taxes assessed against
any person, firm or corporation is prohibited by § 58.1-3
and therefore is not required to be made public under FOIA.
A citizen seeking disclosure of information concerning an
identified taxpayer under FOIA is not entitled to that information
unless he can establish that it falls within a stated exception
in § 58.1-3.1
Thank you for contacting
this office. I hope that I have been of assistance.
Rural Utilities v. Greenlief, No. 12457, ltr. Op. At 2
(Fairfax Co. Cir. Ct. Feb. 24, 1992), 1981-82 Op. Atty. Gen.
Va. 377, 1989 Op. Atty. Gen. Va. 304, 1992 Op. Atty. Gen.