MORGANTOWN – A Monongalia County judge has ruled that West Virginia University Medical Corporation is a public body and must respond to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Monongalia Circuit Court Judge Phillip D. Gaujot made his ruling Aug. 6 in Monongalia County General Hospital’s lawsuit against WVU Medical Corporation, doing business as University Health Associates.

A year ago, Mon General Hospital submitted a FOIA request to WVUMC, seeking documents related to WVUMC’s relocation of its urgent care center to Suncrest Towne Centre.

“We are very pleased with Judge Gaujot’s ruling,” said Darryl Duncan, president of Mon General Hospital.

“This is the second time that a Monongalia County Circuit Court has come to the same conclusion and we felt the facts were always there to support this decision.”

WVUMC is a nonprofit that supports the clinical practice of physicians employed by the WVU School of Medicine. It denied Mon General’s FOIA request on Aug. 24.

Six days later, Mon General responded by attaching a 1986 order authored by the-Monongalia Circuit Court Judge Larry Starcher, who later became a Supreme Court justice.

WVUMC was deemed to be a “public body” as a result of an “overriding nexus with WVU,” Starcher’s order said.

Focusing on state law that defines “public body” as any other body which is created by state or local authority or which is primarily funded by the state or local authority, as WVUMC urged Gaujot to do, would be incorrect, the judge ruled.

Public bodies are also defined as every state officer, agency, department, division, bureau, board, commission, county and city governing body, school district, special district, municipal corporation, and any board, department, commission council or agency thereof.

“(A)dopting such an approach would ignore the reality of WVUMC’s intimate nexus with West Virginia University Hospitals, in favor of ‘stilted formalism, in the words of this State’s own Supreme Court,” Gaujot wrote.

“West Virginia’s definition of a ‘public body,’ for the purposes of the FOIA, includes state instrumentalities, specifically agencies, departments, divisions, bureaus, boards and commission.

“This Court is well aware that statutes should be given their plain meaning, and based upon its interpretation of the FOIA definition of ‘public body,’ this Court is of the opinion that the language upon which WVUMC urges it to rely would be triggered should the other definitions of ‘public body’ fail.”

From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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