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National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers v. Executive Office for United States Attorneys

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

December 18, 2014

NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYERS, Plaintiff,
v.
EXECUTIVE OFFICE FOR UNITED STATES ATTORNEYS et al., Defendants

Page 553

For NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYERS, Plaintiff: Kerri L. Ruttenberg, JONES DAY, Washington, DC.

For UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, EXECUTIVE OFFICE FOR UNITED STATES ATTORNEYS, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Defendants: Hector G. Bladuell, LEAD ATTORNEY, John Russell Tyler, U.S. DEPARMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, DC.

Page 554

MEMORANDUM OPINION

COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (" NACDL" ) filed a FOIA request for the Department of Justice's (" DOJ" ) Federal Criminal Discovery Manual, also known as the " Blue Book." The DOJ denied NACDL's request in full, claiming that the entire Blue Book is exempt under Exemption 5 and Exemption 7(E) of the Freedom of Information Act (" FOIA" ). NACDL subsequently filed suit against the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (" EOUSA" ) and the DOJ on February 21, 2014, seeking release of the Blue Book. Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment. Upon consideration of the pleadings,[1] the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court finds that the Blue Book is attorney work-product protected from disclosure pursuant to FOIA Exemption 5. Accordingly, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and DENIES Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

On December 20, 2012, NACDL filed a FOIA request with the DOJ seeking " the Office of Legal Education publication entitled 'Federal Criminal Discovery'" which " may also be referred to as The Federal Criminal Discovery Blue Book." Compl. ¶ 33; Ex. A (FOIA Request). On February 28, 2013, the DOJ denied NACDL's FOIA request in full citing FOIA Exemptions 5 and 7(E) as the basis for its denial. Compl. ¶ 35; Ex. B (Denial of FOIA Request). NACDL appealed the DOJ's denial of its FOIA request on April 26, 2013. Compl. ¶ 36; Ex. C (FOIA Appeal). NACDL's appeal was denied on June 25, 2013. Compl. ¶ 38; Ex. E (Denial of FOIA Appeal). In denying NACDL's appeal, the Office of Information Policy affirmed the DOJ's initial denial of Plaintiff's FOIA request on partly modified grounds, citing only to FOIA Exemption 5's protection of attorney work-product as the proper basis for the DOJ's withholding of the Blue Book. Id.

On February 21, 2014, NACDL filed suit in this Court claiming that the DOJ improperly withheld the Blue Book under FOIA Exemptions 5 and 7(E). Compl. ¶ ¶ 39, 45. Defendants subsequently filed a Motion for Summary Judgment arguing that the Blue Book is exempt from disclosure in its entirety under FOIA Exemptions 5 and 7(E). Specifically, Defendants invoke Exemption 5's attorney work-product privilege. Plaintiff then filed a Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment. Both motions have been fully briefed and are now ripe for review.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Congress enacted FOIA to " pierce the veil of administrative secrecy and to

Page 555

open agency action to the light of public scrutiny." Dep't of the Air Force v. Rose, 425 U.S. 352, 361, 96 S.Ct. 1592, 48 L.Ed.2d 11 (1976) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Congress remained sensitive to the need to achieve balance between these objectives and the potential 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, 298 U.S.App.D.C. 8 (D.C. Cir. 1992) (en banc) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted), cert. denied, 507 U.S. 984, 113 S.Ct. 1579, 123 L.Ed.2d 147 (1993). To that end, FOIA " requires federal agencies to make Government records available to the public, subject to nine exemptions for specific categories of material." Milner v. Dep't of Navy, 562 U.S. 562, 131 S.Ct. 1259, 1261-62, 179 L.Ed.2d 268 (2011). Ultimately, " disclosure, not secrecy, is the dominant objective of the Act." Rose, 425 U.S. at 361. For this reason, the " exemptions are explicitly made exclusive, and must be narrowly construed." Milner, 131 S.Ct. at 1262 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

When presented with a motion for summary judgment in a FOIA case, the district court must conduct a " de novo" review of the record, which requires the court to " ascertain whether the agency has sustained its burden of demonstrating that the documents requested . . . are exempt from disclosure under the FOIA." Multi Ag. Media LLC v. Dep't of Agriculture, 515 F.3d 1224, 1227, 380 U.S.App.D.C. 1 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (citation omitted). The burden is on the agency to justify its response to the plaintiff's request. 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B). " An agency may sustain its burden by means of affidavits, but only if they contain reasonable specificity of detail rather than merely conclusory statements, and if they are not called into question by contradictory evidence in the record or by evidence of agency bad faith." Multi Ag. Media, 515 F.3d at 1227 (citation omitted). " If an agency's affidavit describes the justifications for withholding the information with specific detail, demonstrates that the information withheld logically falls within the claimed exemption, and is not contradicted by contrary evidence in the record or by evidence of the agency's bad faith, then summary judgment is warranted on the basis of the affidavit alone." ACLU v. United States DOD, 628 F.3d 612, 619, 393 U.S.App.D.C. 384 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (citations omitted). " Uncontradicted, plausible affidavits showing reasonable specificity and a logical relation to the exemption are likely to prevail." Ancient Coin Collectors Guild v. Dep't of State, 641 F.3d 504, 509, 395 U.S.App.D.C. 138 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (citation omitted). ...


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