The Virginia courts generally require a high level of public activity before a plaintiff becomes a limited-purpose public figure. The definition of a limited-purpose public figure is covered in the general Actual Malice and Negligence section of this guide under the limited-purpose public figures discussion (scroll down to the topic heading "limited-purpose public figures"). In Virginia, courts look at the following factors in determining whether a plaintiff is a limited-purpose public figure:
whether the plaintiff had access to channels of effective communication;
whether the plaintiff voluntarily assumed a role of special prominence in a public controversy;
whether the plaintiff sought to influence the resolution or outcome of the controversy;
whether the controversy existed prior to the publication of the defamatory statements; and
whether the plaintiff retained public figure status at the time of the alleged defamation.
Carr v. Forbes, Inc., 259 F.3d 273, 280 (2001)
In Virginia, the courts have found the following individuals, among others, to be limited-purpose public figures:
the president of the two charitable organizations because the charities thrust themselves into the public eye through fund raising awareness efforts (Chapin v. Knight‑Ridder, Inc.);
a widely-published scientist and self-styled whistleblower who claimed the National Cancer Institute (NCI) had reversed its official position on whether a pesticide was carcinogenic (Reuber v. Food Chem. News);
A dolphin scientist who attempted to sell his dolphin technology to military and nonmilitary industries and who sought to influence the outcome of a public controversy through brochures and public statements (Fitzgerald v. Penthouse).
On the other hand, the courts have found the following individuals and organizations, among others, to be private figures: