This suit was brought under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552, to obtain certain documents from the United States Postal Service relating to contractual dealings between the Postal Service and M.L. Hatcher Pickup and Delivery Service, Inc. and to a pending criminal investigation of plaintiff Hatcher and his corporation. The Postal Service, both initially and following an administrative appeal, granted Hatcher's FOIA request in part and denied it in part on the grounds that certain documents withheld fit within statutory exemptions to the FOIA disclosure requirements. On March 17, 1982, Hatcher initiated this FOIA suit challenging the Postal Service's action. The case is now before the Court upon Hatcher's motion for partial summary judgment seeking disclosure of withheld materials and the Postal Service's cross-motion for summary judgment.
The Postal Service's motion for summary judgment, filed May 21, 1982, is supported by the affidavit of Kenneth H. Fletcher, Chief Postal Inspector, describing the types of documents at issue. After a conference with the parties in open court on June 29, the Court found certain portions of the Fletcher affidavit insufficient and entered an Order on June 30 requiring the Postal Service to file a supplemental Vaughn v. Rosen index further describing those groups of documents inadequately described in the original affidavit. The supplemental Vaughn was filed September 10.
The Court finds that a further in camera inspection of the documents at issue is not necessary under the circumstances of this case. There is no strong public interest in disclosure of the requested documents, no evidence of bad faith on the part of the Postal Service, the Postal Service has not proposed in camera inspection, and, given the more than 1,500 pages of documents at issue, the interests of judicial economy would not be served by such inspection. Allen v. CIA, 205 U.S. App. D.C. 159, 636 F.2d 1287, 1298-99 (D.C. Cir. 1980). More importantly, with the addition of the supplemental Vaughn, the affidavits presented by the Postal Service are adequate to determine with reasonable specificity whether the documents fall within a certain FOIA exception. Hayden v. National Security Agency/Central Security Service, 197 U.S. App. D.C. 224, 608 F.2d 1381, 1387 (D.C. Cir. 1979), cert. denied, 446 U.S. 937, 64 L. Ed. 2d 790, 100 S. Ct. 2156 (1980); Allen, supra at 1291. On the basis of the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment and oppositions thereto, the Postal Service's original affidavits and supplemental Vaughn, and the entire record herein, the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment are granted in part and denied in part, as indicated below.
The documents in question have been grouped in the original affidavit provided by the Postal Service into thirteen groups, identified by the letters "A" through "M." Within some of these groups, individual documents have been further identified by number in the supplemental Vaughn, e.g., document A-1, document B-2, and so forth. Those appellations are adopted by the Court in this Memorandum and the attached Order.
As threshold matters, the Postal Service has now agreed that document D-6 and all the documents in group E will be disclosed if Hatcher so requests. Hatcher has requested copies of the documents and those shall be produced.
After receiving the Postal Service's supplemental Vaughn, Hatcher has agreed to withdraw his request for the remaining documents in group D, labeled D-1 through D-5. Hatcher has also withdrawn his request for documents A-1, A-9 through A-15, F-5, F-15 through F-17, F-19 through F-21, F-23, and F-24.
The Postal Service argues that the remaining materials it has withheld are exempt from disclosure under FOIA exemption 7, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(A), and that it may also withhold the documents in question pursuant to the Postal Reorganization Act, 39 U.S.C. § 410(c)(6), which it argues is an exempting statute under FOIA exemption (3), 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(3).
The Court finds that some of the remaining documents withheld are clearly exempt from disclosure under FOIA exemption 7, which provides that FOIA does not require disclosure of "investigatory records compiled for law enforcement purposes . . . to the extent that the production of such records would (A) interfere with enforcement proceedings. . . ." 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7)(A). Among the documents found exempt are all those contained in group A (except A-2 through A-5) and groups C, G, H, I, J, K, L, and M; documents F-1 through F-4, F-6 through F-8, F-13, F-14, F-18, F-22 and F-27 through F-30. After consideration of the Postal Service's original affidavit, its detailed supplemental Vaughn, and the record herein the Court finds that each of these documents is an investigatory document created or compiled in the course of the investigation, for law enforcement purposes, disclosure of which would interfere with enforcement proceedings by hindering investigation and placing the Service at a disadvantage when the time comes for it to present its case. National Labor Relations Board v. Robbins Tire & Rubber Co., 437 U.S. 214, 224, 57 L. Ed. 2d 159, 98 S. Ct. 2311 (1978).
Congress has recognized the need to protect the rights of individuals facing criminal prosecution by authorizing through the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, as developed in well-established precedents, elaborate discovery which lays bare the prosecution's case to an accused in advance of trial. FOIA was never intended to permit an individual the opportunity to learn the details of the government's inquiry into his conduct in advance of his possible indictment. It takes no degree of sophistication to appreciate that such access is sought primarily to thwart and divert the inquiry. Where the government is pursuing a criminal investigation before a grand jury its work shall not be undermined by forcing disclosure through FOIA of its theories, its witnesses, its investigatory techniques and its deliberations as the appropriate charges, if any, to be recommended. Summary judgment must be granted the Postal Service as to those documents.
The documents that remain at issue -- documents A-2 through A-5, F-9 through F-12, F-25, F-26 and all the documents in group B -- are those created prior to or independent of the investigation of Hatcher. Some, from the description provided by the Postal Service, were not created as part of the specific inquiry into Hatcher's possible violations of law but rather were acquired through routine agency program administration.
The remaining documents address the general interpretation of government regulations, policies, and procedures, and were not created as a part of the Postal Service's investigation of Hatcher.
The Postal Service argues it may withhold those materials on the ground that to the extent they were not investigatory records from the inception, they have become substantially "violation-oriented" and "re-focused" and have been legitimately and properly compiled as investigatory records. In other words, the Service claims it is authorized to withhold those remaining documents under exemption 7 because, while they were not initially created or compiled for law enforcement purposes, they have allegedly since acquired investigative significance as a result of initiation of the criminal investigation against plaintiff and his company. For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that the Postal Service is not authorized to withhold those documents under exemption 7.
The legislative history of the 1974 amendments to FOIA reveal that one of Congress' explicit purposes in substituting the term "record" for "file" in exemption 7 was to make clear that materials generated in the course of routine government operations could not be protected by commingling them with investigative materials generated by a subsequently-initiated law enforcement investigation. Robbins, supra at 229-30. Senator Hart, the sponsor of the 1974 amendments to exemption 7, expressed his concern that "such information as meat inspection reports, civil rights compliance information, and medicare nursing home reports will be considered exempt under the seventh exemption." House Committee on Government Operations and Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Freedom of Information Act and Amendments of 1974 (P.L. 93-502) Source Book, 94th Cong., 1st Sess. at 333 (Joint Committee Print 1975) (hereinafter cited as 1975 Source Book). Later, in arguing in support of overruling the President's veto of the 1974 amendments, Senator Hart stated that retention of the term "file" would arguably
allow an agency to withhold all the records in a file if any portion of it runs afoul of [the specific criteria for withholding investigatory records established by the amendment]. It is precisely this opportunity to exempt whole files which gives an agency incentive to commingle various information into one enormous investigatory file and then claim it is too difficult to sift through and effectively classify that information. 1975 Source Book at 451.
The Postal Service's attempt to justify withholding materials generated in the course of routine contract negotiations with and oversight of M.L. Hatcher Pickup and Delivery Service, Inc., and the general interpretation of agency regulations, procedures, and policies developed well before investigation of Hatcher, is thus expressly barred by the clear intent behind the amendment of exemption 7 in 1974.
The only colorable support for defendant's reliance on exemption 7 is contained in the Attorney General's Memorandum on the 1974 Amendments to the Freedom of Information Act, prepared in February, 1975. The Memorandum states:
Records of more general information-gathering activities (e.g., reporting forms submitted by a regulated industry or by recipients of Federal grants) developed in order to monitor, generally or in particular cases, the effectiveness of existing programs and to determine whether changes may be appropriate, should not be considered "compiled for law enforcement purposes" except where the purpose for which the records are held and used by the agency becomes substantially violation-oriented, i.e., becomes re-focused on preventing, discovering or applying sanctions against noncompliance with federal statutes or regulations. 1975 Source Book at 516.