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American Immigration Lawyers Ass'n v. Executive Office for Immigration Review

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

December 24, 2014

AMERICAN IMMIGRATION LAWYERS ASSOCIATION, Plaintiff,
v.
EXECUTIVE OFFICE FOR IMMIGRATION REVIEW et al., Defendants

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For AMERICAN IMMIGRATION LAWYERS ASSOCIATION, Plaintiff: Allison Marcy Zieve, Julie A. Murray, PUBLIC CITIZEN LITIGATION GROUP, Washington, DC; Beth Jennifer Werlin, AMERICAN IMMIGRATION COUNCIL, Washington, DC.

For EXECUTIVE OFFICE FOR IMMIGRATION REVIEW, JUAN P. OSUNA, in his official capacity as Director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, ERIC H. HOLDER, JR., in his official capacity as Attorney General of the United States, Defendants: Jane M. Lyons, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Washington, DC.

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MEMORANDUM OPINION

CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER, United States District Judge.

The conduct of the nation's immigration judges has been the focus of considerable public concern in recent years.[1] Seeking to shed additional light on this important issue, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (" AILA" ) filed a Freedom of Information Act (" FOIA" ) request with the Executive Office for Immigration Review (" EOIR" )--the component of the Department of Justice that supervises immigration judges--for records related to complaints against individual judges and EOIR's final written resolutions of those complaints. After AILA filed this lawsuit, EOIR produced some 16,000 pages of records associated with 767 complaints but redacted or withheld the individual judges' personal information--including their names, genders, and work locations. Both parties now move for summary judgment. AILA insists that EOIR must disclose the identity of individual judges, as well as other material that EOIR redacted from the produced records as non-responsive, and publish its complaint resolutions. EOIR retorts that identifying the immigration judges by name would unduly infringe their privacy interests and that its other redactions were proper. It further argues that FOIA does not require release of the complaint resolutions.[2] While the public may have some interest in knowing the identities of individual judges, AILA must be content with the voluminous complaint records it has already received. As non-supervisory, career civil servants, immigration judges retain privacy rights that outweigh the incremental public interest in revealing their identities. The Court therefore will grant EOIR's summary judgment motion as it relates to the redaction of the judges' personal identifying information. The Court also will grant summary judgment for EOIR with respect to AILA's request for the complaint resolutions because the resolutions are not the result of an adversarial process and do not carry the force of law. The Court will grant summary judgment for AILA, however, with respect to EOIR's redaction of other information in the complaint files.

I. Background

AILA is a national association of more than 13,000 attorneys and law professors

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who practice and teach immigration law. Decl. of Robert P. Deasy, Deputy Director of AILA (" Deasy Decl." ) ¶ 3. EOIR is an office in the Department of Justice that administers the nation's immigration court system, which consists of 59 immigration courts and more than 246 immigration judges (" IJs" ) nationwide. Decl. of Mary Beth Keller, Assistant Chief Immigration Judge (" Keller Decl." ) ¶ ¶ 2-4. IJs are non-supervisory career civil servants " selected through competitive vacancy announcements open to all United States citizens" and are " organized as a collective bargaining unit." Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. at 2; see also Keller Decl. ¶ 5 and 8 C.F.R. § 1001.1(l) (An IJ is " an administrative judge within" EOIR).

In response to criticism of IJ conduct by several circuit courts and related news stories, the Department of Justice launched a review of the immigration courts in 2006 and subsequently implemented a new system for the intake, tracking, and resolution of complaints. Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J. at 6-9. Under the new system, EOIR treats as a complaint, and investigates, any information it receives related to inappropriate conduct by an IJ--whether or not the conduct occurred when the IJ was in court or relates to his or her official duties. Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. at 3 n.2. On November 13, 2012, AILA submitted a FOIA request to EOIR seeking:

(1) All complaints filed against immigration judges;
(2) All records that reflect the resolution of complaints filed against immigration judges, including the type of informal action taken, if any, or formal discipline imposed, if any;
(3) All records that reflect the reasons for resolving complaints against immigration judges and/or findings relied on to resolve complaints against immigration judges, including any reports or memoranda from the Department of Justice Office of ...

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