United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
P. Mehta United States District Judge
Center for Public Integrity brought this Freedom of
Information Act (“FOIA”) action against Defendant
Department of Energy (“DOE”), seeking to compel
disclosure of records concerning DOE's investigation of
Sandia Corporation (“Sandia”) and its lobbying
activities. Sandia is a government contractor that operates
the Sandia National Laboratory, a government-owned nuclear
laboratory overseen by DOE. In 2009, certain employees of
Sandia and its parent company, Lockheed Martin Corporation,
devised a plan to lobby federal officials to renew
Sandia's contract with DOE without competitive bidding.
That plan, however, was developed and carried out with the
use of taxpayer funds. DOE's Office of Inspector General
investigated Sandia's actions and concluded that it had
violated federal laws prohibiting the use of taxpayer dollars
for lobbying activities. Sandia eventually reached a civil
settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice.
response to Plaintiff's FOIA request, DOE produced some
records in full, some in part, and withheld others in their
entirety under certain statutory exemptions. Plaintiff
challenges Defendant's reliance on those exemptions.
Before the court are the parties' cross-motions for
summary judgment. Defendant contends that it properly
withheld information under FOIA Exemptions 3, 4, 6, 7(C),
7(E), and 7(F), as that information consists of a combination
of sensitive national security information, documents
implicating personal privacy interests, as well as several
confidential and legally privileged proprietary business
documents. Plaintiff argues that Defendant's withholding
of responsive records is unjustified.
Court finds Defendant properly withheld information under
Exemptions 3, 7(E), and 7(F), as well as certain information
under Exemptions 4, 6, and 7(C). However, the court also
finds that Defendant has not properly justified withholding
other information under Exemptions 4, 6, and 7(C). As to that
information, the court will not order its disclosure at this
time, but will give Defendant the opportunity to supplement
its declarations. Accordingly, the court grants in part and
denies in part Defendant's Motions for Summary Judgment
and denies in part Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Investigation into Sandia Corporation's Lobbying
Corporation (“Sandia”), a wholly-owned subsidiary
of Lockheed Martin Corporation, operates Sandia National
Laboratory, which is one of three government-owned national
security nuclear laboratories falling under the auspices of
the U.S. Department of Energy (“DOE”) and its
sub-component, the National Nuclear Security Administration
(“NNSA”). Sandia originally contracted with
Defendant to operate the nuclear laboratory in 1993.
See Def.'s Second Mot. for Partial Summ. J., ECF
No. 26 [hereinafter NNSA Mot.], Ex. 1, ECF No. 26-1
[hereinafter Eanes Decl.], ¶ 2; Pl.'s Opp'n to
Def.'s Mots. for Summ. J., ECF No. 30 [hereinafter
Pl.'s Opp'n], at 2. Sandia was annually paid $2
billion under the contract. Pl.'s Opp'n at 2.
contract with DOE was set to expire in 2012. In or around
2009, executives from both Lockheed Martin and Sandia formed
an internal team tasked with formulating a lobbying strategy
for obtaining a no-bid contract extension. Id. As
part of its strategy, Sandia hired three lobbying consultants
who worked closely with Lockheed and Sandia employees in
order to, among other things, identify specific
individuals-including government officials and members of
Congress-to target in an effort to obtain the no-bid
point, these lobbying activities came to the attention of
DOE's Office of Inspector General (“OIG”).
Following an investigation, OIG issued a report in November
2014, finding that Sandia had used taxpayer funds to engage
in lobbying activities in violation of federal law.
Id. at 2-3; Def.'s First Partial Mot. for Summ.
J., ECF No. 22 [hereinafter DOE Mot.], Ex. 2, ECF No. 22-2,
at 7-35. On August 20, 2015, Sandia reached an agreement with
the U.S. Department of Justice to pay $4, 790, 042 to resolve
the alleged law violations. Pl.'s Opp'n at 3-4.
Plaintiff's FOIA Request
November 12, 2014, Plaintiff Center for Public Integrity
submitted a FOIA request to DOE, seeking:
• “A full copy of the Report of Investigation, the
Final Report, the Closing Memo, the Referral Letter, and the
Referral Memo for Department of Energy Office of Inspector
General Investigation DOE/IG-0927;” and
• “All records in your custody or under your
control that pertain to Department of Energy Office of
Inspector General investigation DOE/IG-0927, including but
not limited to letters, e-mails, memoranda, reports,
appointment calendars, and telephone call logs and any
related attachments, and dated up until the date you process
Pl's Opp'n, Ex. 1, ECF No. 30-1, at 1.
subsequently identified a total of 114 documents that were
responsive to Plaintiffs FOIA request, which it then reviewed
for release. DOE Mot. at 3-4. Ultimately, OIG released 71
documents-27 documents in full, 44 with redactions-and
withheld two documents in their entirety. Id. OIG
invoked Exemptions 5, 6, and 7(C) to justify its various
redactions and withholdings. Id.
OIG forwarded 41 documents contained in the investigative
file to the NNSA for its review prior to release.
Id. NNSA, along with Sandia staff and other
administrative agencies, reviewed and ultimately produced 39
documents with redactions. NNSA Mot. at 1-3. NNSA invoked
FOIA Exemptions 3, 4, 6, 7(E), and 7(F) to justify the
various redactions. Id.
exhausting its administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed this
action on August 13, 2015. Compl., ECF No. 1. The matter is
now before the court on the parties' cross-motions for
FOIA cases are appropriately resolved on motions for summary
judgment. Brayton v. Office of the U.S. Trade
Representative, 641 F.3d 521, 527 (D.C. Cir. 2011). A
court must grant summary judgment “if the movant shows
that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and
the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A dispute is “genuine” only
if a reasonable fact-finder could find for the nonmoving
party, and a fact is “material” only if it is
capable of affecting the outcome of litigation. Anderson
v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
“Unlike the review of other agency action that must be
upheld if supported by substantial evidence and not arbitrary
or capricious, the FOIA expressly places the burden ‘on
the agency to sustain its action' and directs the
district courts to ‘determine the matter de
novo.'” U.S. Dep't of Justice v. Reporters
Comm. for Freedom of Press, 489 U.S. 749, 755 (1989)
(quoting 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B)).
judgment in a FOIA case may be based solely on information
provided in an agency's supporting affidavits or
declarations if they are “relatively detailed and
non-conclusory.” SafeCard Servs., Inc. v. SEC,
926 F.2d 1197, 1200 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (internal quotation
marks omitted). The agency's affidavits or declarations
must “describe the documents and the justifications for
nondisclosure with reasonably specific detail” and
“demonstrate that the information withheld logically
falls within the claimed exemption.” Military Audit
Project v. Casey, 656 F.2d 724, 738 (D.C. Cir. 1981).
Further, they must not be “controverted by either
contrary evidence in the record [or] by evidence of agency
bad faith.” Id.; see Beltranena v.
Clinton, 770 F.Supp.2d 175, 181-82 (D.D.C. 2011).
“To successfully challenge an agency's showing that
it complied with the FOIA, the plaintiff must come forward
with ‘specific facts' demonstrating that there is a
genuine issue with respect to whether the agency has
improperly withheld extant agency records.” Span v.
U.S. Dep't of Justice, 696 F.Supp.2d 113, 119
(D.D.C. 2010) (quoting U.S. Dep't of Justice v. Tax
Analysts, 492 U.S. 136, 142 (1989)).
basic purpose of FOIA is to ensure an informed citizenry,
vital to the functioning of a democratic society, needed to
check against corruption and to hold the governors
accountable to the governed.” NLRB v. Robbins Tire
& Rubber Co., 437 U.S. 214, 242 (1978). Because of
FOIA's critical role in promoting transparency and
accountability, “[a]t all times courts must bear in
mind that FOIA mandates a ‘strong presumption in favor
of disclosure.'” Nat'l Ass'n of
Home Builders v. Norton, 309 F.3d 26, 32 (D.C.
Cir. 2002) (quoting U.S. Dep't of State v. Ray,
502 U.S. 164, 173 (1991)). FOIA requires that “each
agency, upon any request for records which (i) reasonably
describes such records and (ii) is made in accordance with
published rules . . . make the records promptly available to
any person, ” 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(3)(A), unless the
records fall within one of nine narrowly construed
exemptions, see 5 U.S.C. § 552(b); Vaughn
v. Rosen, 484 F.2d 820, 823 (D.C. Cir. 1973).
“Ultimately, an agency's justification for invoking
a FOIA exemption is sufficient if it appears logical or
plausible.” Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Dep't
of Def., 715 F.3d 937, 941 (D.C. Cir. 2013) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
invokes FOIA Exemptions 3, 4, 6, 7(C), 7(E), and 7(F) to
justify its various redactions. Plaintiff challenges the
applicability of the cited exemptions. The court addresses
each of the parties' disputes below, starting with their
contest over Exemption 4.
4 permits an agency to withhold “trade secrets and
commercial or financial information [that is] obtained from a
person [and is] privileged or confidential.” 5 U.S.C.
§ 552(b)(4). The exemption contains two threshold
requirements-the information must be (1) “obtained from
a person” and (2) “commercial or
financial.” See Wash. Post Co. v. U.S. Dep't of
Health & Human Servs., 690 F.2d 252, 266 (D.C. Cir.
1982). If these ...