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Judicial Watch, Inc. v. United States Department of Justice

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

May 12, 2014

JUDICIAL WATCH, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Defendant

Page 40

For JUDICIAL WATCH, INC., Plaintiff: James F. Peterson, Paul J. Orfanedes, JUDICIAL WATCH, INC., Washington, DC.

For U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Defendant: Rhonda C. Fields, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Civil Division, Washington, DC.

Page 41

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ELLEN SEGAL HUVELLE, United States District Judge.

Judicial Watch, Inc., brings this action against the United States Department of Justice (" DOJ" ) under the Freedom of Information Act (" FOIA" ), 5 U.S.C. § 552, et seq. In response to a FOIA request made by plaintiff, defendant produced some documents in full, but withheld and redacted others pursuant to FOIA Exemptions 5 and 6. (Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. (" Def.'s Mot." ), Feb. 10, 2014 [ECF No. 10], at 1-2.) Plaintiff concedes that the search for responsive documents was reasonable and that the majority of defendant's withholdings and redactions were justified. (Pl.'s Cross-Mot. for Partial Summ. J. (" Pl.'s Mot." ), Mar. 3, 2014 [ECF No. 12], at 4.) Plaintiff, however, challenges the redaction of e-mails " discussing the drafting of the Attorney General's speech which discuss/infer the sexual orientation of certain Department employees" under Exemption 6. ( Id. ) Presently before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. Based on a consideration of the pleadings, an in camera review of the e-mails at issue, and the relevant case law, the Court will grant defendant's motion and deny plaintiff's motion.

BACKGROUND

On August 27, 2012, Judicial Watch submitted a FOIA request to the DOJ Office of Information Policy (" OIP" ) seeking records related to the National LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) Bar Association's 2012 Lavender Law Conference and Career Fair at which the Attorney General spoke. (Statement of Material Facts As to Which There is No Genuine Dispute (" SUMF" ), Feb. 10, 2014 [ECF No. 10], at ¶ 1.) When Judicial Watch failed to receive a response from the government by March 18, 2013, it sent an e-mail demanding that the requested records be provided without delay. (Pl.'s Mot. at 2.) DOJ responded by e-mail informing

Page 42

Judicial Watch that the search for responsive documents had been completed and that OIP was in the process of reviewing these documents. Judicial Watch then filed an administrative appeal on March 21, 2013, and this lawsuit on June 21, 2013. ( Id. at 2-3.) OIP responded to plaintiff's FOIA request on December 17, 2013. (SUMF at ¶ 3.) Of the two hundred and thirty-five pages of responsive documents identified by OIP, it released one hundred and sixty-six pages in redacted form, withheld sixty-six pages in full, referred two pages to the Community Relations Service (ultimately released in full), and referred one page to the Tax Division (ultimately released in redacted form). ( Id. at ¶ ¶ 3-5.)

Along with its motion for summary judgment, defendant filed a sworn declaration from Vanessa R. Brinkmann, Senior Counsel at OIP, detailing the process that OIP used to search for responsive documents and outlining the ten categories of withheld and/or redacted documents. (Declaration of Vanessa R. Brown (" Brown Decl." ), Feb. 10, 2014 [ECF No. 10-1].) These categories included:

o Exemption (5)-(1): e-mails " deliberating the timing of an announcement regarding the Attorney General's participation in the conference" ;
o Exemption (5)-(2): e-mails " discussing the drafting of the Attorney General's speech" ;
o Exemption (5)-(3): " drafts of the Attorney General's speech with substantive revisions that were substantially different from the final version of the Attorney General's remarks before the Lavender Law Conference and Career Fair" ;
o Exemption (5)-(4): " briefing material, including talking points, prepared for the Attorney General regarding hate ...

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