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Freedom of Information Act Research Guide

Case Law

Finding Case Law Related to the Freedom of Information Act.

Methods:

1. Go to an annotated version of the United States Code (United States Code Annotated (West/ Thomson Reuters) or United States Code Service (Lexis).  Look up 5 U.S.C. § 552. The text of the statute is followed by a number of annotations, including case annotations. 

2. Via Westlaw or a print version of the West's Federal Practice Digest: Search Topic and Key Numbers assigned to FOIA issues: 

  • 30 Access to records or files in general
  • 31 Regulations limiting access; offenses
  • 32 Court records
  • 33 Persons entitled to disclosure; interest or purpose
  • 34 Proceedings for access
  • 35 Proceedings to prevent disclosure; injunction
  • 50 In general; freedom of information laws in general
  • 51 Agencies or custodians affected
  • 52 Persons entitled to disclosure; interest or purpose
  • 53 Matters subject to disclosure; exemptions
    • 54 —In general
    • 55 —Exemptions or prohibitions under other laws
    • 56 —Classified secrets
    • 57 —Internal memoranda or letters; executive privilege
    • 58 —Personal privacy considerations in general; personnel matters
    • 59 —Trade secrets and commercial or financial information
    • 60 —Investigatory or law enforcement records
  • 61 Proceedings for disclosure
    • 62 —In general; request and compliance
    • 63 —Judicial enforcement in general
    • 64 —Discretion and equitable considerations; balancing interests
    • 65 —Evidence and burden of proof
    • 66 —In camera inspection; excision or deletion
    • 67 —Findings and order; injunctive relief
    • 68 —Costs and fees

Frequently Referenced FOIA Cases.

(With Westlaw-provided briefs).

Access Reports v. Department of Justice, 926 F. 2d 1192 (1991).  

"Newsletter featuring information on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) sought copy of internal memorandum written by staff attorney at Department of Justice pertaining to Department's proposed amendments to Act. The United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Harold H. Greene, J., determined that memorandum was not exempt from disclosure, and appeal was taken. The Court of Appeals, Stephen F. Williams, Circuit Judge, held that memorandum was exempt from disclosure under section providing for exemption for interagency or intraagency memorandums or letters which would not be available by law to party other than agency in litigation with agency." Reversed.

ACLU v. Department of Defense, et al., 389 F. Supp. 2d 547 (SDNY, 2005).

"Civil liberties advocacy organization sued United States pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), demanding that the government produce documents concerning the treatment of detainees in United States custody and the death and torture of detainees allegedly possessed by the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)."
"Holdings: The District Court, Hellerstein, J., held that   1 reports of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) concerning the treatment of detainees in Iraq to the DOD were exempt from disclosure; 2 CIA's Glomar response to requests for memorandum specifying interrogation methods that the CIA could use against top Al-Qaeda members, and a directive signed by the President granting the CIA the authority to set up detention facilities outside the United States and/or outlining interrogation methods that may be used against detainees was justified; Glomar response to requests for memorandum specifying interrogation methods that the CIA could use against top Al-Qaeda members, and a directive signed by the President granting the CIA the authority to set up detention facilities outside the United States and/or outlining interrogation methods that may be used against detainees was justified; 3 CIA's Glomar response to request for memorandum from the Department of Justice (DOJ) to the CIA interpreting the Convention Against Torture was not justified; and Glomar response to request for memorandum from the Department of Justice (DOJ) to the CIA interpreting the Convention Against Torture was not justified; and 4 photographs and videotapes held by the DOD depicting abuse of detainees in Guantanamo Bay and Iraq, when redacted, were not exempt from disclosure." Ordered accordingly.
 
"Plaintiffs filed suit challenging constitutionality of provisions of Communications Decency Act (CDA) provisions seeking to protect minors from harmful material on the Internet. Second suit was filed by additional plaintiffs, and cases were consolidated. A three-judge panel of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, convened pursuant to the CDA, 929 F.Supp. 824, entered preliminary injunction against enforcement of provisions. Government appealed under special review provisions of the CDA. The Supreme Court, Justice Stevens, held that: (1) provisions of the CDA prohibiting transmission of obscene or indecent communications by means of telecommunications device to persons under age 18, or sending patently offensive communications through use of interactive computer service to persons under age 18, were content-based blanket restrictions on speech, and, as such, could not be properly analyzed on First Amendment challenge as a form of time, place, and manner regulation; (2) challenged provisions were facially overbroad in violation of the First Amendment; and (3) constitutionality of provision prohibiting transmission of obscene or indecent communications by means of telecommunications device to persons under age 18 would be saved from facial overbreadth challenge by severing term “or indecent” from statute pursuant to its severability clause." overbroad in violation of the First Amendment; and (3) constitutionality of provision prohibiting transmission of obscene or indecent communications by means of telecommunications device to persons under age 18 would be saved from facial overbreadth challenge by severing term “or indecent” from statute pursuant to its severability clause." overbreadth challenge by severing term “or indecent” from statute pursuant to its severability clause." Affirmed.

 

Administrator, Federal Aviation Administration v. Robertson, 422 U.S. 255 (1975).

"Plaintiffs, who were conducting study of airline safety, brought action under Freedom of Information Act to compel Federal Aviation Administration to make available certain Systems Worthiness Analysis Program Reports. The United States District Court for the District of Columbia, rendered partial summary judgment for plaintiffs, and defendants appealed. The Court of Appeals, 162 U.S.App.D.C. 298, 498 F.2d 1031, affirmed and remanded. Certiorari was granted. The Supreme Court, Mr. Chief Justice Burger, held that exemption from disclosure requirements of the FOIA for matters specifically exempted from disclosure by statute is sufficiently ambiguous to require resort to legislative history, that the FOIA did not repeal by implication the then existing numerous statutes which restricted public access to specific government records and that broad discretion vested by Congress in the FAA to withhold from public disclosure information which, in judgment of the Administrator, would adversely affect the interest of the objecting party and was not required to be disclosed in the interests of the public was not necessarily inconsistent with Congress' intent in enacting the FOIA to replace the broad standard of the public disclosure section of the Administrative Procedure Act and that the instant reports, disclosure of which the FAA had stated would not be in the public interests because confidentiality was necessary to effectiveness of the program, were exempt from public disclosure as being specifically exempt from disclosure by statute, i.e., Federal Aviation Act." Reversed.  "Superseded by Statute/Rule as Stated in Consumer Product Safety Commission v. GTE Sylvania, Inc., U.S.Del., June 9, 1980."

 

Assassination Archives and Research Center, Inc., v. Central Intelligence Agency , 720 F. Supp. 217 (1989).

"Plaintiff submitted Freedom of Information Act request seeking all Central Intelligence Agency information on current President which reflected any relationship between him and the CIA prior to his term as Director of the CIA as well as documents regarding assassination of President Kennedy that were reviewed by the current President while he was Director. The District Court, Revercomb, J., held that documents were protected from disclosure by Freedom of Information Act." Defendant's motion for summary judgment granted.

 

"Government contractor sued to prevent disclosure of information supplied to the Defense Logistics Agency concerning its employment of women and minorities. The United States District Court for the District of Delaware, 412 F.Supp. 171, granted relief in part. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, 565 F.2d 1172, vacated that judgment and certiorari was granted. The Supreme Court, Mr. Justice Rehnquist, held that: (1) the Freedom of Information Act was exclusively a disclosure statute and afforded no private right of action to enjoin agency disclosure; (2) the type of disclosure threatened in this case was not “authorized by law” within the meaning of the Trade Secrets Act on the theory that Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs regulations relied upon by DLA were the source of that authorization; (3) the Trade Secrets Act did not afford a private right of action to enjoin disclosure in violation of the statute; however, (4) review of the DLA's decision to disclose was available under the Administrative Procedure Act." Judgment of Court of Appeals vacated and remanded. (Superseded by Statute as Stated in Iowa Film Production Services v. Iowa Dept. of Economic DevelopmentIowa, July 27, 2012).

 

Critical Mass Energy Project v. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 975 F. 2d 871 (DC Cir. 1992). (cert denied 113 S.Ct. 1579 (1993).

"Public interest organization brought action under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain nuclear industry group's safety reports that had been voluntarily provided to Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 644 F.Supp. 344, exempted reports from disclosure, and organization appealed. On remand, 830 F.2d 278, the District Court upheld refusal to disclose reports, 731 F.Supp. 554, and organization appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed, 931 F.2d 939, and NRC and industry group petitioned for rehearing en banc. The Court of Appeals, Buckley, Circuit Judge, held that information voluntarily provided by industry group to NRC was “confidential,” and thus exempt from disclosure under banc. The Court of Appeals, Buckley, Circuit Judge, held that information voluntarily provided by industry group to NRC was “confidential,” and thus exempt from disclosure under banc. The Court of Appeals, Buckley, Circuit Judge, held that information voluntarily provided by industry group to NRC was “confidential,” and thus exempt from disclosure under FOIA exemption for financial or commercial information." So ordered.

 

Department of Air Force v. Rose, 425 U.S. 352 (1976).

"Present and former law review editors brought action under Freedom of Information Act to compel disclosure of case summaries of honor and ethics hearings at service academy with personal references and other identifying material deleted. The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, granted partial summary judgment to defendants and the plaintiffs appealed. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, 495 F.2d 261, reversed and remanded with instructions, and certiorari was granted. The Supreme Court, Mr. Justice Brennan, held, inter alia, that the summaries were not free from disclosure under exemption relating to internal personnel rules and practices of an agency, that the Court of Appeals properly ordered the agency to produce the case summaries for an in camera inspection of the district court to determine whether their disclosure was proper under exemption granted to personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, but such a statutory provision did not grant a blanket exemption to all personnel and similar files." Affirmed.

Department of the Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs v. Klamath Water Users Protective Ass'n , 532 U.S. 1 (2001).

"Nonprofit association of water users brought action against Department of the Interior under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) seeking documents submitted by Indian tribes at request of Department in course of administrative and adjudicative proceedings regarding water rights allocation. The United States District Court for the District of Oregon, Michael R. Hogan, Chief District Judge, granted Department's motion for summary judgment, and association appealed. The Court of Appeals, Schwarzer, Senior District Judge, 189 F.3d 1034, reversed. Certiorari was granted. The Supreme Court, Justice Souter, held that, without regard to whether Freedom of Information Act (Schwarzer, Senior District Judge, 189 F.3d 1034, reversed. Certiorari was granted. The Supreme Court, Justice Souter, held that, without regard to whether Freedom of Information Act (Souter, held that, without regard to whether Freedom of Information Act (Schwarzer, Senior District Judge, 189 F.3d 1034, reversed. Certiorari was granted. The Supreme Court, Justice Souter, held that, without regard to whether Freedom of Information Act (Souter, held that, without regard to whether Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exemption for inter- or intra-agency memoranda or letters is broad enough to reach documents authored, not by employee of agency, but by independent contractor acting as consultant, exemption did not protect from disclosure documents that were submitted by Indian tribes at request of Department of Interior in course of administrative and adjudicative proceedings in which tribes had direct interest. Disclosure, not secrecy, is dominant objective of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and FOIA exemptions are given a narrow compass. 5 U.S.C.A. § 552.Affirmed.

Environmental Protection Agency v. Mink, 410 U.S. 73 (1973).

"Suit was brought by members of Congress, in both their official and private capacities, under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain documents pertaining to underground atomic explosion. The United States District Court for the District of Columbia entered summary judgment for the federal defendants and the members of Congress appealed. The Court of Appeals, 150 U.S.App.D.C. 233, 464 F.2d 742, reversed and remanded and the federal defendants brought certiorari. The Supreme Court, Mr. Justice White, held that where documents pertaining to proposed underground atomic explosion were classified ‘top secret’ or ‘secret,’ pursuant to executive order, provision of Freedom of Information Act which excludes from the operation of the Act matters specifically required by executive order to be kept secret in interest of the national defense or foreign policy precluded compelled disclosure of the documents." Reversed and remanded.

Federal Bureau of Investigation v. Abramson,  456 U.S. 615 (1982). 

"The United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Charles R. Richey, J., in a case under the Freedom of Information Act, found that disclosure would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. Petitioner appealed. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 212 U.S.App.D.C. 58, 658 F.2d 806, reversed. Certiorari was granted. The Supreme Court, Justice White, held that information contained in records originally compiled for law enforcement purposes does not lose its exemption from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, but continues to meet the threshold requirement of being compiled for law enforcement purposes, when the information is reproduced or summarized in a new document prepared for other than law enforcement purposes." Reversed and remanded.

 Federal Communications Commission v. AT&T, Inc.,  562 U.S. 397 (2011)

"Background: Petitioner, a corporation operating in the telecommunications industry, sought review of an order of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 2008 WL 4190979, which granted competitors' Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for documents obtained from petitioner during course of investigation into petitioner's alleged overcharging of FCC-administered program. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Chagares, Circuit Judge, 582 F.3d 490Chagares, Circuit Judge, 582 F.3d 490,granted the petition and remanded. Certiorari was granted.  Holding: The Supreme Court, Chief Justice Roberts, held that “personal privacy,” within the meaning of Freedom of Information Act Exemption 7(C), which covers law enforcement records, the disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, does not encompass corporations." Court of Appeals reversed.
 

"Plaintiff in Freedom of Information Act case appealed from an order of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Oliver Gasch, J., which denied him access to CIA documents detailing legal bills and fee arrangements of private attorneys retained by the Agency. The Court of Appeals, Wilkey, Circuit Judge, held that: (1) CIA documents detailing legal bills and fee agreements with private attorneys retained by the Agency were exempt from disclosure under Freedom of Information Act exemption prohibiting disclosure of matters specifically exempted from disclosure by statute; (2) plaintiff who did not allege an injury which was not common to all members of public, lacked standing to raise constitutional challenge against provisions of Central Intelligence Agency Act requiring secrecy for appropriations and expenditures of the CIA; and (3) statutory provision authorizing withholding of CIA expense data did not violate statement and account clause of Constitution." Affirmed.Wilkey, Circuit Judge, held that: (1) CIA documents detailing legal bills and fee agreements with private attorneys retained by the Agency were exempt from disclosure under Freedom of Information Act exemption prohibiting disclosure of matters specifically exempted from disclosure by statute; (2) plaintiff who did not allege an injury which was not common to all members of public, lacked standing to raise constitutional challenge against provisions of Central Intelligence Agency Act requiring secrecy for appropriations and expenditures of the CIA; and (3) statutory provision authorizing withholding of CIA expense data did not violate statement and account clause of Constitution." Affirmed.Gasch, J., which denied him access to CIA documents detailing legal bills and fee arrangements of private attorneys retained by the Agency. The Court of Appeals, Wilkey, Circuit Judge, held that: (1) CIA documents detailing legal bills and fee agreements with private attorneys retained by the Agency were exempt from disclosure under Freedom of Information Act exemption prohibiting disclosure of matters specifically exempted from disclosure by statute; (2) plaintiff who did not allege an injury which was not common to all members of public, lacked standing to raise constitutional challenge against provisions of Central Intelligence Agency Act requiring secrecy for appropriations and expenditures of the CIA; and (3) statutory provision authorizing withholding of CIA expense data did not violate statement and account clause of Constitution." Affirmed.Wilkey, Circuit Judge, held that: (1) CIA documents detailing legal bills and fee agreements with private attorneys retained by the Agency were exempt from disclosure under Freedom of Information Act exemption prohibiting disclosure of matters specifically exempted from disclosure by statute; (2) plaintiff who did not allege an injury which was not common to all members of public, lacked standing to raise constitutional challenge against provisions of Central Intelligence Agency Act requiring secrecy for appropriations and expenditures of the CIA; and (3) statutory provision authorizing withholding of CIA expense data did not violate statement and account clause of Constitution." Affirmed.

Milner v. Department of the Navy,  562 U.S. 562 (2011).

"Background: Member of organization dedicated to raising community awareness of dangers of Navy's explosions activities on nearby island brought action under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain release of Navy documents relating to effects of explosions at particular locations. Parties moved for summary judgment. The United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, John C. Coughenour, J., 2007 WL 3228049, granted summary judgment in favor of Navy. Organization member appealed. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Richard C. Tallman, Circuit Judge, 575 F.3d 959, affirmed. Certiorari was granted. Holding: The Supreme Court, Justice Kagan, held that because FOIA exemption which protected from disclosure material “related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency” encompassed only records relating to employee relations and human resources issues, explosives maps and data requested did not qualify for withholding under that exemption; abrogating Crooker v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms, 670 F.2d 1051, Massey v. FBI, 3 F.3d 620, Kaganove v. EPA, 856 F.2d 884, Schiller v. NLRB, 964 F.2d 1205." Reversed and remanded.

National Labor Relations Board v. Robbins Tire & Rubber Co., 437 U.S. 214 (1978)

"The United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, ordered the National Labor Relations Board to turn over to employer copies of all written statements of witnesses to be called in unfair labor practice proceeding, and the Board appealed. The Court of Appeals, 563 F.2d 724, affirmed, and certiorari was granted. The Supreme Court, Mr. Justice Marshall, held that release of statements of witnesses whom National Labor Relations Board intends to call at hearing on unfair labor practice complaint necessarily “would interfere” with the Board's “enforcement proceedings” and thus Board is not required to disclose such statements prior to hearing." Judgment of Court of Appeals reversed.

Students Against Genocide v. Department of State, 257 F.3d 828 (2001). 

"Citizens' organizations and others brought Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) action seeking information from government agencies regarding human rights violations by Bosnian Serb forces in Srebrenica area of Bosnia. The United States District Court for the District of Columbia, KollarSrebrenica area of Bosnia. The United States District Court for the District of Columbia, KollarKollar-KotellyKotelly, J., entered summary judgment for agencies, adopting the opinion of Facciola, United States Magistrate Judge, 50 F.Supp.2d 20. Plaintiffs appealed. The Court of Appeals, Garland, Circuit Judge, held that: (1) release of some reconnaissance photographs displayed by Secretary of State to United Nations Security Council did not constitute waiver of right to withhold others in same series; (2) U.N. display did not constitute release of photographs into public domain; (3) State Department conducted adequate responsive search; (4) National Security Agency (NSA) sufficiently justified application of national defense Freedom of Information Act (Facciola, United States Magistrate Judge, 50 F.Supp.2d 20. Plaintiffs appealed. The Court of Appeals, Garland, Circuit Judge, held that: (1) release of some reconnaissance photographs displayed by Secretary of State to United Nations Security Council did not constitute waiver of right to withhold others in same series; (2) U.N. display did not constitute release of photographs into public domain; (3) State Department conducted adequate responsive search; (4) National Security Agency (NSA) sufficiently justified application of national defense Freedom of Information Act (Facciola, United States Magistrate Judge, 50 F.Supp.2d 20. Plaintiffs appealed. The Court of Appeals, Garland, Circuit Judge, held that: (1) release of some reconnaissance photographs displayed by Secretary of State to United Nations Security Council did not constitute waiver of right to withhold others in same series; (2) U.N. display did not constitute release of photographs into public domain; (3) State Department conducted adequate responsive search; (4) National Security Agency (NSA) sufficiently justified application of national defense Freedom of Information Act (Facciola, United States Magistrate Judge, 50 F.Supp.2d 20. Plaintiffs appealed. The Court of Appeals, Garland, Circuit Judge, held that: (1) release of some reconnaissance photographs displayed by Secretary of State to United Nations Security Council did not constitute waiver of right to withhold others in same series; (2) U.N. display did not constitute release of photographs into public domain; (3) State Department conducted adequate responsive search; (4) National Security Agency (NSA) sufficiently justified application of national defense Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exemption; and (5) national defense and “exempted by statute” FOIA exemptions were applicable to Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) memo." Affirmed in part and remanded in part.

Trea Senior Citizens League v. United States Dept. of State 994 F. Supp. 2d 23 (D.D.C. 2013).

 

"Background: Requestor filed suit against Department of State, under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), seeking documents pertaining to international Social Security agreement, otherwise known as totalization agreement, between United States and Mexico. Government moved for summary judgment, and requestor cross-moved for partial summary judgment and requested second in camera review.
Holdings: The District Court, Beryl A. Howell, J., held that:
1 Department's status report required reexamination;
2 Department's draft of talking points required reexamination;
3 Department's authorization document was not exempt from disclosure; and
4 Social Security Administration's documents were not exempt from disclosure.
Motions granted in part and denied in part; request denied."
 

United States Department of Justice v. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 489 U.S. 749 (1989).

"Reporter and association of journalists sought protection of criminal records pursuant to Freedom of Information Act. The United States District Court for the District of Columbia, John Garrett Penn, J., entered summary judgment dismissing suit, and reporter and association appealed. The Court of Appeals, 816 F.2d 730, remanded, and petition was filed for rehearing. On rehearing, the Court of Appeals, Silberman, Circuit Judge, 831 F.2d 1124, reversed and remanded. Certiorari was granted. The Supreme Court, Justice Stevens, held that disclosure of contents of FBI rap sheet to third party could reasonably be expected to constitute unwarranted invasion of personal privacy within meaning of law enforcement exemption of Freedom of Information Act and was therefore prohibited by exemption." Silberman, Circuit Judge, 831 F.2d 1124, reversed and remanded. Certiorari was granted. The Supreme Court, Justice Stevens, held that disclosure of contents of FBI rap sheet to third party could reasonably be expected to constitute unwarranted invasion of personal privacy within meaning of law enforcement exemption of Freedom of Information Act and was therefore prohibited by exemption." Silberman, Circuit Judge, 831 F.2d 1124, reversed and remanded. Certiorari was granted. The Supreme Court, Justice Stevens, held that disclosure of contents of FBI rap sheet to third party could reasonably be expected to constitute unwarranted invasion of personal privacy within meaning of law enforcement exemption of Freedom of Information Act and was therefore prohibited by exemption." Silberman, Circuit Judge, 831 F.2d 1124, reversed and remanded. Certiorari was granted. The Supreme Court, Justice Stevens, held that disclosure of contents of FBI rap sheet to third party could reasonably be expected to constitute unwarranted invasion of personal privacy within meaning of law enforcement exemption of Freedom of Information Act and was therefore prohibited by exemption." Reversed.