(CN) – A Virginia advocacy group cannot sue three state officials for allegedly withholding records on three mentally ill patients who died or were injured in state-run facilities, the 4th Circuit ruled.
The Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy (VOPA), an independent state agency, sought the records during an investigation of charges of neglect and abuse within facilities operated by the Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services.
The agency sued three officials in the department, claiming they withheld the information in violation of state records laws.
The defendants sought dismissal on the basis of immunity, but VOPA argued that its claims fell under the Ex parte Young doctrine, which allows a state agency to sue state officials in federal court.
But the Richmond-based federal appeals court reversed the lower court’s ruling for the plaintiff, saying the Ex parte Young doctrine “is the improper vehicle for VOPA to gain access to a federal forum.”
The agency could pursue its claims in state court, Judge Wilkinson added, but it was up to Congress to provide a federal forum.