Man sues county over FOIA request

A Front Royal man has filed a lawsuit against Prince William County for the county's alleged failure to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request.
Dennis Fusaro, a former Manassas resident, filed a civil suit in Prince William Circuit Court on April 6 stating that the county violated the Freedom of Information Act by failing to provide him with information regarding the county's concealed handgun permit policy and practices.

Fusaro e-mailed a FOIA request to Prince William Police Chief Charlie T. Dean on Dec. 15, 2006, asking for orders, memos, letters and e-mails from Circuit Court judges or clerks in relation to carrying out concealed carry permit applications, according to court documents.

Fusaro received a response from Assistant County Attorney Bobbi Jo Alexis on Dec. 22, 2006, stating that the e-mail was received at 6 p.m. on Dec. 15 and was thereby considered to have been received on Dec. 18, according to the suit.
In Alexis's response, she told Fusaro that it would "not be practically possible" to provide Fusaro's requested information within five working days following receipt of the request.

According to state FOIA laws, the custodian of any requested records is required to make a response within five working days of receipt of the request.
If it is deemed not practically possible to provide the information within those five days, the record custodian is permitted by law to request an additional seven-working-day period to provide the information, or withhold it if it is prohibited by law to release the information.

On Jan. 17, Fusaro e-mailed a second FOIA request to Alexis regarding his initial request and asked for a copy of the original e-mail he sent showing the date and time it was received, according to the suit.

On Jan. 18, Alexis sent Fusaro a copy of the original e-mail but without any information showing the time and date of receipt and without any header information, according to the suit.

Fusaro sent the county another request on Jan. 24 and on Jan. 30, Alexis replied that including the header information was exempt from disclosure under the FOIA exemption for "information that describes the design, function, operation or access control features of any security system," according to the suit.
Fusaro then contacted the Virginia Freedom of Information Act Advisory Council regarding this exemption.

The Advisory Council deemed that the time and date of receipt information does not fall under the FOIA exemption that the county cited, according to the suit.
The suit alleges that the county violated FOIA by failing to provide information as to the time and date of receipt of Fusaro's Dec. 15 request; failing to provide the header information within the required time; failure to specify conditions that made the response impossible within the time limits; failure to timely respond to the Dec. 17 FOIA request; and failure to reach agreement with Fusaro regarding his January FOIA requests.

"I just want them to follow the law," Fusaro said.

Fusaro said with regard to the original information he requested, a deputy clerk told him there were no documents available saying who authorized certain requirements for issuing concealed handgun permits.

The requirements in question were a pre-filing interview with police officials and submission of a signed Handgun Competency Certification Form, according to the suit.

The suit seeks specific findings of FOIA violations; injunction requiring the county to produce the withheld information and award of attorneys' fees and costs to Fusaro.