Weston v. Carolina Research and Development Foundation was a case before the South Carolina Supreme Court in 1991 concerning the applicability of open records laws to University Foundations.
This case established a number of important precedents:
- Expanded what can be considered public funding to include University Foundations.
- Rejected the notion that common law practices separating public and private could be used to override FOIA policy.
- Carolina Research and Development Foundation is a charitable non-profit incorporated under South Carolina law whose sole purpose is to be of benefit to the University of South Carolina.
- Weston submitted records requests to the Foundation for a number of documents in their possession.
- The Foundation denied the request, claiming that it was not a public body under the law.
- Weston filed suit and the district court ruled in favor of Weston.
- The foundation appealed the decision.
Ruling of the court
The trial court ruled in favor of Weston, determining that the Foundation was in fact a public body because it received and dispensed public funds and thus subject to the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act. The court then ordered the documents in question released.
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the trial court. The court cited four events that clearly indicate a receipt of public funds by the foundation:
- A receipt of a portion of money from the sale of university property.
- The receipt of Federal grant money intended for the university. The university president redirected the funds to the foundation, claiming that the "University was 'acting through' the Foundation, which in turn, was acting on 'behalf' of the University as its 'agent.'"
- The Foundation received a number of local grants on behalf of the university.
- The foundation received portions of funds from research contracts with third parties involving research conducted by University employees and students.
The court determined that any one of these factors, let alone all 4 indicate a receipt of public funds and thus subject the Foundation to the FOIA. Further, the court rejected the Foundations contention that common law practices create a separation between private and public which overrides the FOIA law. Finally, the court determined that if the funds would have been received in exchange for concrete goods and services, then the law would not apply. As it stands, the funds were not received for goods and services and thus, the Foundation is to be considered a public body and subject to the FOIA.