McBurney v. Young

PETITIONER:Mark J. McBurney et al.
RESPONDENT:Nathaniel L. Young, Deputy Commissioner and Director, Virginia Division of Child Support Enforcement, et al.
LOCATION:Virginia Division of Child Support Enforcement

DOCKET NO.: 12-17
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 569 US (2013)
GRANTED: Oct 05, 2012
ARGUED: Feb 20, 2013
DECIDED: Apr 29, 2013

Deepak Gupta – for the petitioners
E. Duncan Getchell, Jr. – Solicitor General of Virginia, for the respondents

Facts of the case

Mark McBurney is a citizen of Rohde Island and a former resident of Virginia where his son lives. When McBurney’s wife defaulted on child support obligations, he asked the Virginia Division of Child Support Enforcement (VDCSE) to file a petition for child support on his behalf. After a nine-month delay, the petition was filed and granted. He then filed a Virginia Freedom of Information Act (VFOIA) request with the VDCSE for all records pertaining to his son and ex-wife. The VDCSE denied the request, arguing that the information was confidential and McBurney was not a citizen of the state. While McBurney eventually obtained most of needed the information through other sources, he never got all of the information from his VFOIA request.

McBurney sued in district court arguing that denial of the VFOIA request violated the privileges and immunities clause and the dormant commerce clause of the Constitution. The district court ruled against McBurney. Mc Burney along with two others appealed their VFOIA denials to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which affirmed the district court. The Court of Appeals held that VFOIA did not hinder a non citizen’s right to pursue buisness in the state and did not place a burden on interstate commerce.


Under the Privileges and Immunities Clause of Article IV and the dormant Commerce Clause of the U. S. Constitution, may a state preclude citizens of other states from enjoying the same right of access to public records that the state affords its own citizens?

Media for McBurney v. Young

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – February 20, 2013 in McBurney v. Young

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – April 29, 2013 in McBurney v. Young

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Alito has our opinion this morning in case 12-17, McBurney versus Young.

Samuel A. Alito, Jr.:

This case concerns the constitutionality of a provision of Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act that provides public records access to Virginia’s citizens but not to citizens of other States.

Petitioners who are citizens of California and Rhode Island filed requests under the Act, but the request were denied because of their citizenship.

They then brought suit contending that this feature of the Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act violates the Privileges and Immunities Clause of Article IV of the constitution and the Dormant Commerce Clause.

The Fourth Circuit rejected their claims and we granted certiorari to resolve a conflict with the Third Circuit which is held that Delaware’s citizens only FOIA provision violates the Privileges and Immunities Clause.

We hold that petitioners’ constitutional claims were properly rejected.

The Privileges and Immunities Clause prohibits the State from denying to citizens of other States those fundamental privileges and immunities that are extended to the State’s own citizens.

Petitioners alleged that Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act bridges four fundamental privileges or immunities The right to pursue a common calling, the right to own and transfer property in Virginia, the right to access public proceedings, and a broad right to obtain public information.

The first three of these privileges, however, are not actually abridged by the Virginia law and the fourth, at least, in the broad sense, framed by petitioners is not fundamental.

In addition to his privileges and immunities claim, petitioner Hurlbert contends that Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act violates the dormant Commerce Clause, but the Virginia law neither regulates in a more burdens commerce.

It simply provides a service to Virginia citizens.

For these and other reasons set out in our opinion, the decision of the Fourth Circuit is affirmed.

The decision is unanimous.

Justice Thomas has filed a concurring opinion.