WVU responds to lawsuit, failing to comply with FOIA request

MORGANTOWN — WVU asked that a lawsuit by Appalachian Mountain Advocates Inc., a nonprofit, over claims that WVU failed to comply with a Freedom of Information Act be dismissed.

In the motion, filed in Monongalia County Circuit Court last week, WVU called the group’s request “burdensome,” said the FOIA sought statutorily protected documents that it is not required to produce and is untimely and falls outside the statute of limitations.

Appalachian Mountain Advocates requested WVU turn over four types of records generated Jan. 16-Nov. 10, 2017.

They were:

Any memoranda of understanding or agreements between any West Virginia state officer, agency or department and China Energy Investment Corp. or its representatives.

Any list of energy, infrastructure or industrial projects provided to China Energy Investment Corp. by any West Virginia state officer, agency or department.

Any documents, including e-mails, that contained both of the terms “China” and “energy,” “China” and “coal,” or “China” and “gas.”

Any attachments or exhi-bits to any of the records described above.

The WVU response claimed Appalachian Mountain Advocates was not specific enough in its request and that since the organization refused to narrow its request WVU would be forced to use limited resources to review, separate and possibly redact more than 15,000 emails.

The request was made shortly after the West Virginia Department of Commerce announced plans by China Energy Investment Corp. Limited to invest $83.7 billion into shale gas development and chemical manufacturing projects in West Virginia Nov. 9, 2017.

That day, a memorandum of understanding between China Energy and the state of West Virginia was signed, the suit states.

WVU stated that App-alachian Mountain Advocates sent its FOIA request to WVU because Quing yun Sun, of WVU’s Energy Institute, is the associate director of the U.S.-China Energy Center and serves as the governor’s assistant for China affairs at the West Virginia Development Office.

Sun did not sign the MOU but is the contact person for China Energy’s investment, the suit states.

Documents made or received by the West Virginia Development Office are confidential and exempt from FOIA requests by W.Va. Code and the FOIA request to WVU was an attempt to circumvent that confidentiality, the suit claimed.

The response said Appalachian Mountain Advocates did not make a second FOIA request, offer to limit the FOIA request or communicate with WVU in any way about the FOIA until it sent a pre-suit notice in May, five months after the request was made.

The lawsuit was filed June 21.

Previous ArticleNext Article
William Dean The Dominion Post