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James Madison Project v. Central Intelligence Agency

March 19, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Document No. 11



This matter is before the court on the defendant's motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff is a nonprofit organization created to "educat[e] the public on issues relating to intelligence gathering and operations, secrecy policies, national security and government wrongdoing." Pl.'s Opp'n at 1 n.1. In furtherance of this aim, the plaintiff submitted a request to the defendant under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552, seeking copies of internal CIA regulations pertaining to eight categories of information. The defendant released documents to the plaintiff in response to its request, but withheld certain documents, claiming that they were exempted from production under FOIA. The defendant has filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that it has produced all of the documents FOIA requires it to produce. The plaintiff opposes the defendant's motion. Based on the court's determination that the defendant's search was reasonable, it produced all non-exempt documents and it properly segregated exempt from non-exempt documents, the court grants the defendant's motion for summary judgment.


On May 18, 2000, the plaintiff requested CIA regulations on the following eight topics:

(1) personnel issues; (2) the granting or revocation of security clearances; (3) grievance procedures; (4) disciplinary procedures; (5) the Prepublication Review Board; (6) declassification of information; (7) the Historical Advisory Board; and (8) implementation of FOIA and the Privacy Act. Def.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Decl. of Joseph W. Lambert, Director, Info. Mgmt. Servs., Office of the Chief Info. Officer, CIA ("Lambert Decl.")) ¶ 11. After the defendant denied the plaintiff's request, the plaintiff filed an administrative appeal with the defendant on August 8, 2002. Def.'s Mot. at 2. When, in June 2007, the defendant had not yet adjudicated the appeal due to a backlog of FOIA appeals, the plaintiff filed suit in this court. See Compl. The parties agreed that the defendant would process and release any non-exempt materials responsive to the plaintiff's request on or before January 11, 2008. Def.'s Mot. at 3. The defendant produced to the plaintiff some documents responsive to its request, but withheld other materials pursuant to three of the exemptions enumerated in FOIA: 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(1) ("Exemption 1"); 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(2) ("Exemption 2"); and 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(3) ("Exemption 3"). Id. at 3-4.

The defendant has moved for summary judgment, asserting that its search for responsive records was reasonable, id. at 7-8; its invocation of the exemptions was necessary and proper, id. at 11-26; and it reasonably segregated exempt from non-exempt documents responsive to the plaintiff's request, id. at 26. The plaintiff opposes the defendant's motion, claiming that the search was not reasonable, Pl.'s Opp'n at 8-12; the defendant's justification for invoking the three exemptions is insufficient, id. at 20-33; and the defendant did not adequately segregate exempt information from non-exempt information, id. at 34. Alternatively, the plaintiff requests that the court allow it to conduct discovery to ascertain the reasonableness of the defendant's search for responsive records and the appropriateness of the defendant's withholdings. Id. at 35-38. The court turns now to the parties' arguments.


A. Legal Standard for Summary Judgment in FOIA Cases

Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Diamond v. Atwood, 43 F.3d 1538, 1540 (D.C. Cir. 1995). In deciding whether there is a genuine issue of material fact, the court is to view the record in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion, giving the non-movant the benefit of all favorable inferences that can reasonably be drawn from the record and the benefit of any doubt as to the existence of any genuine issue of material fact. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157-59 (1970). To determine which facts are "material," a court must look to the substantive law on which each claim rests. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A "genuine issue" is one whose resolution could establish an element of a claim or defense and, therefore, affect the outcome of the action. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

FOIA affords the public access to virtually any federal government record that FOIA itself does not specifically exempt from disclosure. 5 U.S.C. § 552; Vaughn v. Rosen, 484 F.2d 820, 823 (D.C. Cir. 1973). FOIA confers jurisdiction on the federal district courts to order the release of improperly withheld or redacted information. 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B). In a judicial review of an agency's response to a FOIA request, the defendant agency has the burden of justifying nondisclosure, and the court must ascertain whether the agency has sustained its burden of demonstrating that the documents requested are exempt from disclosure under FOIA.

5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B); Al-Fayed v. CIA, 254 F.3d 300, 305 (D.C. Cir. 2001); Summers v. Dep't of Justice, 140 F.3d 1077, 1080 (D.C. Cir. 1998). An agency may meet this burden by providing the requester with a Vaughn index, adequately describing each withheld document and explaining the exemption's relevance. Summers, 140 F.3d at 1080; Vaughn, 484 F.2d 820 (fashioning what is now commonly referred to as a "Vaughn index").

The court may grant summary judgment to an agency on the basis of its affidavits if they:

[(a)] describe the documents and the justifications for nondisclosure with reasonably specific detail, [(b)] demonstrate that the information withheld logically falls within the claimed exemption, and [(c)] are not controverted by either contrary evidence in the record nor by evidence of agency bad faith.

Military Audit Project v. Casey, 656 F.2d 724, 738 (D.C. Cir. 1981).

B. The Court Grants the Defendant's Motion for ...

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