United States District Court, District of Columbia
COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY United States District Judge
lawsuit arises from a Freedom of Information Act
(“FOIA”) request that Plaintiff Katalin Lynn made
to Defendant National Archives and Records Administration
(“NARA”). Plaintiff requested ten classified
documents, totaling 733 pages, relating to the so-called
Grombach Organization, a secret American intelligence
operation which functioned between 1942 and 1955. Plaintiff
requested these documents for a biography that she is writing
on Tibor Eckhardt, a Hungarian diplomat who provided the
United States with intelligence in coordination with Army
Captain John Grombach, leader of the Grombach Organization.
response to Plaintiff's FOIA request, Defendant located
the ten requested documents. As the documents were designated
restricted status, Defendant sought direction from the
Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”) as to whether
or not access could be provided to the documents. The CIA
informed Defendant that access to the ten documents must be
denied in their entirety on the basis of FOIA Exemptions 1
and 3 as the records concern intelligence activities,
sources, and methods the disclosure of which would risk
damaging national security. Defendant in turn withheld in
full the ten documents from Plaintiff.
Plaintiff filed this suit claiming that Defendant failed to
establish that the documents are being rightfully withheld in
full under FOIA Exemptions 1 and 3. Defendant has filed for
summary judgment contending that FOIA Exemptions 1 and 3
prevent disclosure of the requested documents.
consideration of the pleadings,  the relevant legal
authorities, and the record as it currently stands, the Court
GRANTS Defendant's motion for summary judgment. The Court
concludes that the documents are exempt from FOIA based on
Exemptions 1 and 3.
FOIA request, Plaintiff seeks ten classified documents found
in the “Central Intelligence Agency: Group 263: Records
of the Grombach Organization” for use in connection
with a biography on Tibor Eckhardt. Def.'s Statement of
Material Facts, ECF No. 11, ¶ 1. The record group in
which the ten requested documents are located consists of
records accessioned to Defendant from the CIA. Id.
at ¶ 3. Due to their classification status, the
requested documents are designated as restricted access and
are not available to the public. Id.
consulted with the CIA, the agency with declassification
authority, to determine whether or not the documents could be
declassified and access could be provided to Plaintiff.
Id. at ¶ 4. The CIA informed Defendant that the
release of the ten documents should be denied in their
entirety based on FOIA Exemptions 1 and 3. Id. at
¶ 6. Defendant, in turn, informed Plaintiff that the
documents relating to Plaintiff's FOIA request would be
withheld in their entirety pursuant to FOIA Exemptions 1 and
3. Id. at ¶ 7.
being informed that her requested documents would not be
disclosed, Plaintiff appealed the decision to withhold the
ten documents in their entirety. Id. at ¶ 10.
Following receipt of the appeal, Defendant re-consulted with
the CIA regarding the exemptions to FOIA. But, prior to
Defendant's response to Plaintiff's appeal, Plaintiff
filed this lawsuit asking the Court to review the withholding
and to compel Defendant to release at least some of the ten
requested documents. Declaration of David J. Mengel, ECF No.
11-1, ¶¶ 18-19. Subsequently, Defendant moved for
enacted FOIA to “pierce the veil of administrative
secrecy and to open agency action to the light of public
scrutiny.” Dep't of the Air Force v. Rose,
425 U.S. 352, 361 (1976) (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.”
Fed. Bureau of Investigation v. Abramson, 456 U.S.
615, 621 (1982). To that end, FOIA “requires federal
agencies to make Government records available to the public,
subject to nine exemptions.” Milner v. Dep't of
the Navy, 562 U.S. 562, 562 (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, 562
U.S. at 565 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
presented with a motion for summary judgment in this context,
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 the documents requested are ... exempt from
disclosure under the FOIA.” Multi Ag Media LLC v.
Dep't of Agriculture, 515 F.3d 1224, 1227 (D.C. Cir.
2008) (internal quotation marks 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 (internal quotation marks 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.” Am. Civil
Liberties Union v. U.S. Dep't of Defense, 628 F.3d
612, 619 (D.C. Cir. 2011). “Uncontradicted, plausible
affidavits showing reasonable specificity and a logical
relation to the exemption are likely to prevail.”
Ancient Coin Collectors Guild v. U.S. Dep't of
State, 641 F.3d 504, 509 (D.C. Cir. 2011). Summary
judgment is proper when the pleadings, the discovery
materials on file, and any affidavits or declarations
“show[ ] 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).
does not challenge the adequacy of Defendant's search for
responsive records to Plaintiff's FOIA request. As such,
the sole issue before the Court is whether or not the ten
undisclosed documents regarding the Grombach Organization
fall under FOIA Exemptions 1 and 3. Considering the arguments
of the parties, the ...