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PLAIN DEALER PUBL. CO. v. UNITED STATES DOL

June 8, 1979

PLAIN DEALER PUBLISHING COMPANY et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GASCH

MEMORANDUM

This is an action brought by plaintiffs Plain Dealer Publishing Company and its newspaper's Washington bureau chief, Robert H. Snyder, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552 (1976), against defendants United States Department of Labor and its Secretary, F. Ray Marshall. Plaintiffs seek access to inspect and copy the files active on June 9, 1978, of all workers' compensation claims filed by or on behalf of employees of the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP) in the Department of Labor. Defendants, relying on exemption 6 of the FOIA, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6) (1976), have refused to disclose these files on the ground that disclosure would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.

 Both plaintiffs and defendants have moved this Court for summary judgment. *fn1" After carefully considering the arguments raised by the parties in their memoranda and in open Court, the Court has concluded for the reasons stated below that the files withheld by defendants are exempt from disclosure. *fn2"

 I. BACKGROUND.

 A. History of This Action.

 By a letter dated June 21, 1978, Ralph M. Hartman, Director of the OWCP, denied plaintiffs' request. The basis for the denial was exemption 6 of the FOIA, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6) (1976), which exempts from disclosure "personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy . . . ."

 By a letter dated July 24, 1978, plaintiffs appealed the denial of their FOIA request. On September 1, 1978, having received no response to its appeal and relying on 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(C) (1976), which provides that the requester is deemed to have exhausted his administrative remedies when the agency fails to respond to a FOIA appeal within twenty days, plaintiffs filed this action to compel disclosure of the requested documents. On the same date, plaintiffs also filed a motion to require detailed justification, itemization, and indexing.

 On October 5, 1978, defendants filed its answer to plaintiffs' complaint. On October 25, 1978, defendants filed a response to plaintiffs' motion to require detailed justification, itemization, and indexing. This response included an affidavit by Miriam McD. Miller, an assistant to the Counsel for Administrative Legal Services, Office of the Solicitor, Department of Labor, who stated defendants' reliance on exemption 6 for withholding the requested files. Attached to the Miller affidavit as defendants' Exhibit D is a sanitized list of the documents contained in a representative active file of a claim for workers' compensation by an OWCP employee.

 On February 28, 1979, plaintiffs and defendants filed motions for summary judgment and supporting memoranda. On March 13, 1979, both parties filed replies to the motions for summary judgment. On May 23, 1979, oral argument was heard on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment.

 B. The Federal Employees Compensation Program.

 The Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA), 5 U.S.C. §§ 8101-8193 (1976), provides for a program of compensation to all federal civil officers and employees who are injured or disabled in the performance of their employment, and to certain survivors of these individuals who have died as a result of or in the performance of their employment. As authorized by the Act, Id. § 8145, the Secretary of Labor has delegated the responsibility for administration of the FECA to the Director of the OWCP. Employee claims filed under the FECA are processed by the OWCP, which renders a decision awarding or denying the payment of compensation. Id. § 8124; 20 C.F.R. §§ 10.130-10.136 (1978). Final decisions of the OWCP are reviewable by the Employees' Compensation Appeals Board (ECAB), Id. § 10.137, which renders a publicly available, written decision in which the Board sets forth an appropriate order and the reasons supporting its disposition, Id. § 501.6.

 The Department of Labor has issued regulations setting forth the rules for filing, processing, and paying claims for workers' compensation under the FECA. These regulations require a FECA claimant to give written notice to his superior of any traumatic injury or occupational disease or disability, Id. §§ 10.100, 10.102, to file with the OWCP a written claim for compensation, Id. §§ 10.105-10.109, and to submit to the OWCP evidence pertinent to his claim, such as an affidavit or report as to his employment and earnings, documentary evidence, and statements of witnesses and physicians, Id. §§ 10.110-10.111. Another regulation, Id. § 10.103, requires an employee's superior to submit to the OWCP a written report of every injury or occupational disease that is likely to result in a medical charge against the OWCP, result in a disability for work beyond the day of injury, require prolonged treatment, result in future or permanent disability, ...


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