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REPUBLIC OF NEW AFRIKA v. FBI

July 29, 1985

REPUBLIC OF NEW AFRIKA, ET AL., Plaintiffs,
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION, ET AL., Defendants


Oliver Gasch, United States District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: GASCH

OLIVER GASCH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 I. BACKGROUND

 This is an action arising under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552, for disclosure of certain materials by the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI"). Plaintiff Republic of New Afrika ("RNA") characterizes itself as a "nation of Black people within the territorial boundaries of the United States of America" and has claimed sovereignty over portions of the United States. See Complaint para. 3. Plaintiff Imari Abubakari Obadele is president of the RNA. Id. at P 4. *fn1" Plaintiff Kenneth Lawrence Burg characterizes himself as a "long time journalist, writer and political activist" who is interested in matters pertaining to the RNA. Id. at P 5.

 Plaintiffs' quest to obtain the documents that are the subject of this litigation began a decade ago on April 30, 1975 when Mr. Burg sent a letter to the FBI requesting the release of information pursuant to FOIA pertaining to, inter alia, the RNA. Loome Aff. (Feb. 7, 1980) para. 54. The FBI began releasing documents on October 1, 1975, when Mr. Burg received 113 pages of material from FBI Headquarters files. Id. at P 58. On this and subsequent occasions, plaintiffs were informed that the FBI was withholding selected materials pursuant to certain FOIA exemptions. See, e.g., id.

 Plaintiffs filed this action on September 14, 1978 *fn2" alleging that the FBI had improperly claimed the FOIA exemptions and had failed to acknowledge the existence of certain documents. Complaint, para. 49. The complaint sought information concerning a list of dozens of individuals, organizations, and topics. Id. The FBI ultimately identified 52,728 pages of documents as being responsive to plaintiffs' FOIA requests. Approximately 12,596 pages have been withheld from plaintiffs to date as of the most recent count available to the Court. *fn3"

 On August 2, 1983, defendants moved for summary judgment, contending that defendants had provided all materials to which plaintiffs had a right pursuant to FOIA and lawfully withheld or excised portions of other materials pursuant to three of the statutory exemptions to FOIA: Exemptions 1, 3 and 7. *fn6" On September 30, 1983, counsel for plaintiffs filed an opposition to defendants' motion and asked the Court to conduct an in camera inspection of certain materials to determine whether defendants had properly asserted the various FOIA exemptions. The brief submitted by plaintiffs made clear that plaintiffs were not seeking the Court's review of all materials not provided to plaintiffs. *fn7" Instead, plaintiffs informed the Court that they sought "a sample in camera inspection using 200 documents selected by Plaintiffs." Plaintiffs added:

 
These documents would be chosen based on the likelihood of their demonstrating the F.B.I. conspiracy to neutralize Plaintiffs by use of the pre-arranged raid as well as the likelihood that the deletions in the documents are unjustified. If disclosure of the originals of the two hundred documents selected by Plaintiffs in camera satisfied the Court that the Defendants were witholding [sic] properly, then Plaintiffs would assume that they were using the same methods throughout. *fn8"

 On November 5, 1984, the Court heard argument concerning the government's motion for summary judgment and plaintiffs' motion for in camera review. Counsel for plaintiffs again urged the Court to review a sample of materials containing redactions to be selected by plaintiffs in order to resolve whether plaintiffs' contention that defendants were applying the claimed exemptions in an over broad fashion had merit. Although the Court expressed some reservations about utilizing documents chosen by plaintiffs instead of documents chosen at random, counsel for plaintiffs stressed that allowing plaintiffs to choose the documents would be more instructive by allowing the parties to focus on those items that were most in dispute as a genuine test of the remaining materials. As Mr. Haas told the Court, plaintiffs were "willing to accept that if the Court doesn't find any improper claim there, it won't be anywhere." *fn9"

 Without in any way suggesting that in camera review was required, *fn10" the Court concluded, in its discretion, that plaintiffs' motion for in camera review afforded the most expeditious means of resolving the question of the propriety of the claimed exemptions. Accordingly, the Court agreed to conduct the review urged by plaintiffs and reserved ruling on the motion for summary judgment pending that review.

 On January 16, 1985, plaintiffs submitted the redacted documents they wished the Court to consider. *fn11" On May 1, 1985, defendants filed true and exact copies of the unredacted originals with the Court. The Court has now completed its review of these materials and, for the reasons set forth below, finds that the redactions were proper.

 II. DISCUSSION

 The Freedom of Information Act was conceived "in an effort to permit access by the citizenry to most forms of government records." Vaughn, 484 F.2d at 823; see also McGeehee v. CIA, 697 F.2d 1095, 1108 (D.C. Cir. 1983); Docal v. Bennsinger, 543 F. Supp. 38 (M.D. Pa. 1981). "Congress recognized, however, that public disclosure is not always in the public interest and thus provided that agency records may be withheld from disclosure under any of the [] exemptions defined in 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)." CIA v. Sims, 471 U.S. 159, 85 L. Ed. 2d 173, 105 S. Ct. 1881 (1985). It is well settled that these limited exemptions are to be construed narrowly so as to provide maximum access consonant with the overall purpose of FOIA. E.g., Yeager v. Drug Enforcement Administration, 678 F.2d 315 (D.C. Cir. 1982). By statute, the burden of ...


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