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GREEN v. KLEINDIENST

July 23, 1974

Mark J. Green, et al., Plaintiffs
v.
Richard G. Kleindienst, Attorney General, Defendant


Gasch, J.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: GASCH

GASCH, J.:

 This matter is before the Court on plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment and defendant's motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment.

 Plaintiffs have brought this action pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, seeking to enjoin officials of the Department of Justice from refusing to permit inspection and copying of certain agency records concerning the "business review procedure" program of the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice. The plaintiffs are associated with the Corporate Accountability Research Group in Washington, D.C., a public interest organization, and have filed a request for the records in accordance with the FOIA. Although many of the requested documents have been made available to plaintiffs during the course of this litigation, the government still adheres to its original position that it has no legal obligation to release the contents of these "business review" files due to statutory exemptions to disclosure contained in 5 U.S.C. § 552(b) (4) and (b) (7). Preliminary to examining the applicability of these exemptions to the records at issue, it is necessary to outline in detail the nature of these Department of Justice documents.

 I.

 The Antitrust Division promulgated regulations, in effect since February 1, 1968, which detail certain procedures in which concerned businessmen can ascertain the present enforcement intentions of the Division with respect to proposed business conduct. 28 C.F.R. § 50.6. Historically, these procedures are the outgrowth of what was known as the "railroad release" letters which were issued by the Antitrust Division intermittently from 1939 forward. These letters reviewed in advance proposed business conduct in an effort to determine whether such conduct would subject the business to criminal prosecution if the antitrust laws were applied. This same purpose has been carried over into the present business review procedures.

 The government has filed with the Court the affidavit of Thomas C. Kauper, dated September 27, 1973. Mr. Kauper, the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice, has described with specificity the policies behind the business review procedure and the nature of the files at issue. A reading of this affidavit and a review of the pleadings filed herein reveal the following facts respecting these records.

 With regard to the policies of this program, the business review procedures, as noted, were instituted for the purpose of informing businesses of the Antitrust Division's enforcement intent as to actions about to be taken by that business. There are benefits to both the government and the business through the invocation of this process. The benefit to the government is twofold. First, proposed business conduct which is of questionable legality is brought directly to the attention of the Department of Justice by the business itself. Such a procedure hastens the investigatory process and obviates the necessity of examining leads from other sources that may indicate violations of the antitrust laws. Secondly, the business requesting review provides the government with a great amount of the information that is needed in the investigation. In this connection, the Justice Department regulations provide the following conditions before a business can take advantage of the business review procedure:

 28 C.F.R. § 50. 6 P 4.

 Thus, it is readily apparent that it is in the government's interest to be able to gather evidence of business conduct that may violate the antitrust laws, thus possibly requiring future enforcement proceedings, through this procedure of voluntary submission of data by the requesting business without resort to compulsory process. On the other hand, such a process similarly redounds to the benefit of the business requesting review. Clearly, any business proposing a merger or some other action with antitrust implications would appreciate the knowledge that the government presently does not oppose such action. By working with the Antitrust Division, the business can avoid possibly costly litigation with the Justice Department and the business problems that arise when a company is involved in antitrust litigation with the government.

 The records needed to advise the business as to present government enforcement intentions are gathered within this policy background. Once a request for review is received the government begins a full-fledged investigation that may include interviews with competitors of a merging business or interviews with other persons who may be affected by the proposed business action. Any materials obtained during this investigation are available for use against the requesting party in a subsequent antitrust enforcement proceeding. Likewise, the investigatory files gathered in a business review matter may be used in an enforcement proceeding against another business if the material gathered in the business review investigation is relevant to that other business' activities. Upon completion of the investigation, the staff of the Antitrust Division write memoranda concerning the proposed conduct and make recommendations as to the contents of the reply to the review request. That reply takes the form of a letter and is commonly called the "business review letter."

 Any single business review request thus generates much material which can be categorized as follows: (A) the original request for review; (B) the factual material furnished in support of the request by the party concerned; (C) additional factual material requested by Division attorneys in the course of their investigation; (D) additional factual material drawn from Division files or developed in the course of independent investigation by Division attorneys; (E) internal Division memoranda, produced at both the staff and reviewing levels, analyzing the factual material developed during the investigation and including material which draws legal and policy conclusions; (F) the business review letter itself.

 With respect to category (E) above, the internal memoranda, plaintiffs have dropped any claim to such material. Additionally, with regard to category (F), the business review letter itself, the government has made available to plaintiffs 83 of the 85 business review letters considered by the Antitrust Division between 1968 and 1972. As ...


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