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American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO v. United States Postal Service

September 30, 2010

AMERICAN POSTAL WORKERS UNION, AFL-CIO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Pending before the Court in this Freedom of Information Act case are defendant's motion for summary judgment and plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment. Upon consideration of the motions, the responses and replies thereto, the applicable law, the entire record, and for the reasons set forth below, the defendant's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED. Plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment is DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, the American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO, requested information from the United States Postal Service (the "Postal Service") under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") by letter dated September 10, 2008. In particular, plaintiff requested "the most recent Pay for Performance bonus and/or pay increases... contain[ing] the following information: finance number, last name, first name, middle initial, level, title, PFP lump-sum amount, PFP wage increase." Def's Mem. Ex. J, Declaration of Jane Eyre ("Eyre Decl."), Ex. 1. Defendant denied plaintiff's request, invoking the FOIA exemptions contained in 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(3) ("Exemption 3") and 5 U.S.C § 552(b)(6) ("Exemption 6"). Eyre Decl., Ex. 2 After its administrative appeal of the agency's determination was denied, plaintiff filed this action on February 6, 2009.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Court may grant a motion for summary judgment if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits or declarations, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Factual assertions in the moving party's affidavits or declarations may be accepted as true unless the opposing party submits his own affidavits or declarations or documentary evidence to the contrary. Neal v. Kelly, 963 F.2d 453, 456 (D.C. Cir. 1992).

In a FOIA case, the Court may grant summary judgment based on the information provided by the agency in affidavits or declarations when the affidavits or declarations describe "the documents and the justifications for nondisclosure with reasonably specific detail, demonstrate that the information withheld logically falls within the claimed exemption, and 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); see also SafeCard Services, Inc. v. SEC, 926 F.2d 1197, 1200 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (agency affidavits must be "relatively detailed and non-conclusory"). Such affidavits or declarations are accorded "a presumption of good faith, which cannot be rebutted by 'purely speculative claims about the existence and discoverability of other documents.'" SafeCard Services, Inc., 926 F.2d at 1200 (quoting Ground Saucer Watch, Inc. v. Central Intelligence Agency, 692 F.2d 770, 771 (D.C. Cir. 1981)).

III. ANALYSIS

A. FOIA

Congress enacted FOIA to "open[] up the workings of government to public scrutiny through the disclosure of government records." Stern v. FBI, 737 F.2d 84, 88 (D.C. Cir. 1984) (quotation omitted). Although FOIA is aimed toward "open[ness]... of government," id., Congress acknowledged that "legitimate governmental and private interests could be harmed by release of certain types of information." Critical Mass Energy Project v. Nuclear Regulatory Comm'n, 975 F.2d 871, 872 (D.C. Cir. 1992) (citations and quotations omitted). As such, pursuant to FOIA's nine exemptions, an agency may withhold requested information. 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B); 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(1)-(9). However, "[b]ecause FOIA establishes a strong presumption in favor of disclosure... requested material must be disclosed unless it falls squarely within one of the nine exemptions carved out in the Act." Burka v. U.S. Dep't of Health and Human Servs., 87 F.3d 508, 515 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (citations omitted).

B. Defendant's Invocation of Exemption 3

Exemption 3 permits an agency to withhold information that is "specifically exempted from disclosure by statute," provided that the statute either (i) "requires that the matters be withheld from the public in such a manner as to leave no discretion on the issue"; or (ii) "establishes particular criteria for withholding or refers to particular types of matters to be withheld[.]" 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(3). Determining whether Exemption 3 has been properly invoked requires a two-step analysis. First, the Court must determine whether "the statute in question [is] a statute of exemption as contemplated by exemption 3" and, second, whether "the withheld material satisf[ies] the criteria of the exemption statute[.]" Fitzgibbon v. CIA, 911 F.2d 755, 761 (D.C. Cir. 1990) (citing CIA v. Sims, 471 U.S. 159, 167 (1985)); see also Larson v. Dep't of State, 565 F.3d 857, 868 (D.C. Cir. 2009) ("under Exemption 3 the [agency] need only show that the statute claimed is one of exemption as contemplated by Exemption 3 and that the withheld material falls within the statute.")

Under Exemption 3, "only explicit nondisclosure statutes that evidence a congressional determination that certain materials ought to be kept in confidence will be sufficient to qualify[.]" Irons & Sears v. Dann, 606 F.2d 1215, 1220 (D.C. Cir. 1979). In the instant case, defendant relies upon 39 U.S.C. § 410(c)(2) in support of its claim that it is permitted to withhhold the information requested by plaintiff. Under § 410(c)(2) the Postal Service is not required to disclose "information of a commercial nature, including trade secrets, whether or not obtained from a person outside the Postal Service, which under good business practice would not be publicly disclosed." 39 U.S.C. § 410(c)(2).

As a threshold matter, the parties agree that § 410(c)(2) is a statute of exemption as contemplated by Exemption 3. The parties disagree, however, on whether the requested information falls within the scope of § 410(c)(2). In support of its position that the requested information is covered by § 410(c)(2), defendant has submitted the declaration of Jane Eyre, the Manager of the Records Office of the Postal Service. Ms. Eyre explains that the Pay for Performance ("PFP") program is a "merit program" in which salary increases and/or lump sum bonuses are awarded to individuals using "a wide range of scores based on an individual's performance and corporate/unit indicators." Eyre Decl. ¶ 10. According to Ms. Eyre, the PFP program is "unlike most other government programs, where salary increases are based in large part ...


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