FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA
Ms. Karen Hipple
Chincoteague Island, VA
The staff of
the Freedom of Information Advisory Council is authorized
to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion
is based solely upon the information presented in your e-mails
of January 22, 2001, and February 5, 2001.
Dear Ms. Hipple:
You have asked whether,
under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), a public
body must provide access to lists of businesses to whom licenses
have been issued or lists of individuals or businesses on
a locality's tax rolls. You indicate that you frequently receive
requests for a list of businesses licensed in the locality,
including addresses and phone numbers of such businesses.
You state that you have also received requests for the names,
addresses, and phone numbers of those who pay transient occupancy,
real estate, personal property, and meals taxes. This information
is being requested by various businesses for solicitation
Subsection A of
§ 2.1-342 of the Code of Virginia states that [e]xcept
as otherwise specifically provided by law, all public records
shall be open to inspection and copying by any citizens of
the Commonwealth. Subdivision A. 2. of § 2.1-342.01 exempts
certain tax information held pursuant to § 58.1-3 from public
disclosure. Subsection A of § 58.1-3 prohibits a local tax
officer or employee from divulging 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. Subsection
B of § 58.1-3, however, provides that the section should 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.
The Attorney General
has interpreted both of these relevant provisions of § 58.1-3
and found that the prohibition against disclosure of tax information
embraced financial information ... which may be reasonably
necessary to permit the commissioner of the revenue to make
a proper determination of the amount of tax due and owing.1
Information such as names, addresses, and phone numbers from
tax records would not appear to fall under this interpretation
of the prohibition, because it is not descriptive financial
information. In fact, the Attorney General opined that the
location or type of business listed on a tax record was not
protected by the prohibition because such information is not
indicative of the business' finances.2 Similarly,
the Attorney General found that subsection B of § 58.1-3,
which allows a locality to disclose whether an entity is licensed
to do business, also allows dissemination of the type of business
licensed, along with its address and telephone number.3
Therefore, it would
appear that FOIA requires that both the business license and
tax record information that you have described be open for
public inspection and copying. Please note, however, that
subsection D of § 2.1-342 states that no public body shall
be required to create a new record if the record does not
already exist. If the locality does not already have the
requested lists then it may, but is not required to, compile
such a list from its individual business license and tax records.
Once a locality compiles such a list, however, it would be
subject to disclosure under FOIA.4
As a final note,
you indicate that there is some concern that certain requestors
seek the information you have described for solicitation purposes.
Under FOIA, the reason a requestor is asking for public documents
is irrelevant. The Virginia Supreme Court held that FOIA does
not distinguish between the civic or commercial motives behind
Thank you for contacting
this office. I hope that I have been of assistance.
Maria J.K. Everett
Op. Atty. Gen. Va. 377a.
Op. Atty. Gen. Va. 727.
Op. Atty. Gen. Va. 377a, 1982-82 Op. Atty. Gen. 727.
Tax Service v. Fitzpatrick, 236 Va. 181, 372 S.E. 2d 625 (S.