Virginia Supreme Court reverses ruling regarding dentist's request over redacted records

By Takesha Thomas | Dec 13, 2018

RICHMOND, Va. (Legal Newsline) – Virginia's Supreme Court has reversed a lower court ruling denying a dentist's request to compel a city to limit the scope of redaction in certain billing records he requested in connection with a lawsuit.

On Dec. 6, Virginia Supreme Court Justice Stephen R. McCullough reversed the Circuit Court of the City of Virginia Beach's denial of Dr. Allan L. Bergano's petition regarding the redacted records.

The Circuit Court denied Bergano's request, citing attorney-client and work-product exceptions. However, McCullough concluded that the "Circuit Court’s application of the attorney-client and work-product exceptions was excessively broad." 

According to the ruling, Bergano filed a request with the city for records of "all legal fees and expert invoices relating to all of the city's expenses” in litigating against him in federal court." He filed for the paperwork under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (VFOIA). 

According to Virginia law, under VFOIA, “[e]xcept as otherwise specifically provided by law, all public records shall be open to citizens of the Commonwealth . . . during the regular office hours of the custodian of such records," the ruling states.

Bergano and the city are currently involved in federal lawsuit. The city did release the documents to Bergano; however, they were redacted. Bergano filed a petition to the courts requesting that some of the redacted information be unsealed. The Circuit Court, however, denied that petition "holding that two VFOIA exceptions, the attorney-client exception and the work-product exception, justified the city’s redactions," the ruling states.

McCullough ruled that after review of the unredacted billing records, "the city’s redactions were too broad and included items that are not shielded from disclosure by the attorney-client or work-product exceptions." He added that the lower court allowed the city to withhold the some entries "when these records plainly do not fall within the VFOIA exceptions for work-product and attorney-client privilege."

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