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DocuFreedom Inc. v. United States Department of Justice

United States District Court, D. Kansas

December 6, 2019

DOCUFREEDOM INC., Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Daniel D. Crabtree United States District Judge

         This matter is before the court on United States Department of Justice's (“DOJ”) submission of items for the court's in camera review. DOJ, the defendant in this action, submitted these items so the court could decide whether two Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) exemptions apply.

         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff DocuFreedom filed this lawsuit after defendant DOJ failed to respond to its FOIA requests within the statutory time limit. Doc. 9 (Am. Compl.). DocuFreedom requested that DOJ produce 119 items from the DOJ library and a series of emails. DOJ withheld 17 DOJ Library items and certain redactions to emails.

         DOJ moved for summary judgment, arguing its withholdings were proper under several FOIA exemptions. Doc. 19. The court granted DOJ's Motion for Summary Judgment in part and denied it in part. Doc. 25. The court concluded that DOJ had fulfilled its duties under FOIA for certain items and redactions. But the court reserved its summary judgment ruling on several items because it could not conclude with reasonable certainty that FOIA exemptions applied without conducting an in camera review of the items at issue. And so, the court ordered DOJ to produce Items 4, 6, 10, 37, 39, 49, and 50 for in camera review.[1] DOJ produced these items on September 30, 2019. After reviewing the Items at issue, the court concludes that DOJ properly withheld Items 4, 10, 39, 49, and 50. The court thus grants summary judgment for DOJ on those items.

         II. Legal Standard

         FOIA was enacted “to pierce the veil of administrative secrecy and to open agency action to the light of public scrutiny.” Dep't of Air Force v. Rose, 425 U.S. 352, 361 (1976). “FOIA provides the public ‘a right of access, enforceable in court, to federal agency records, subject to nine specific exemptions.'” Hull v. IRS, 656 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2011) (quoting Anderson v. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 907 F.2d 936, 941 (10th Cir. 1990)); Trentadue v. Integrity Comm., 501 F.3d 1215, 1225-26 (10th Cir. 2007) (“Notwithstanding FOIA's aspiration of governmental transparency, Congress recognized that disclosure of certain classes of documents could harm legitimate government interests.”). Of FOIA's exemptions, two matter in this case:

(5) inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency . . .;
(6) personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy[.]

5 U.S.C. § 552(b).

         Several principles guide the court's analysis in FOIA cases. First, the court must broadly construe FOIA in favor of disclosure. Integrity Comm., 501 F.3d at 1226 (citation omitted). Second, the court must apply FOIA's exemptions narrowly. Id. (citation omitted). Third, FOIA directs government agencies to provide “[a]ny reasonably, segregable portion of a record . . . to any person requesting such record after deletion of the portions which are exempt.” Id. (quoting 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)).

         III. Analysis

         A. Item 4

         In its Motion for Summary Judgment, DOJ contended that Item 4 falls within one of FOIA's statutory exemptions to disclosure. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(b). DOJ asserted that each document comprising Item 4 falls within Exemption 5, which applies to “inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters that would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency.” Id. § 552(b)(5). To qualify as exempt under (b)(5), the documents must satisfy two conditions: (1) its source must be a government agency, and (2) it must fall “within the ambit of privilege against discovery under judicial standards that would govern litigation against the agency that holds it.” Raytheon Aircraft Co. v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng'rs, 183 F.Supp.2d 1280, 1287 (D. Kan. 2001) (quoting Dep't of Interior v. Klamath Water Users Protective Ass'n, 532 U.S. 1, 8 (2001)). Since DocuFreedom didn't dispute that the documents at issue in Item 4 came from a government agency, the court's earlier Memorandum and Order considered whether, under ...


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