United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Timothy J. Kelly United States District Judge.
Society International, a nonprofit organization that promotes
animal conservation and welfare, requested records concerning
the import and export of wildlife that the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service maintains in its Law Enforcement Management
Information System. The agency released the records but
redacted certain categories of information under exemptions
in the Freedom of Information Act for commercial, private
personal, and law enforcement information. In this lawsuit,
Humane Society International challenges those redactions as
unlawful and asserts a claim under the Administrative
Procedure Act, alleging that the agency had previously
released these types of information but has changed its
practice without adequate explanation. Safari Club
International, a nonprofit organization whose members import
wildlife, intervened as a defendant to prevent the disclosure
of the names of its members in the records at issue.
parties have cross-moved for summary judgment. At issue are
the two categories of information that the agency redacted
from the records it released: (1) the declared monetary value
of the wildlife, which the agency withheld as confidential
business information under Exemption 4, and (2) the names of
individual wildlife importers and exporters, which the agency
withheld as private personal information under Exemption 6
and as law enforcement records containing such information
under Exemption 7(C). For the reasons explained below, the
Court will deny without prejudice Humane Society
International's and Defendants' motions for summary
judgment as to the withholdings under Exemption 4; grant
summary judgment for Defendants and Safari Club International
as to the withholdings under Exemption 7(C); and grant
summary judgment for Defendants on the Administrative
Procedure Act claim.
Factual and Procedural Background
The Law Enforcement Management Information System
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), an agency within the
Department of the Interior, maintains the Law Enforcement
Management Information System (LEMIS), an electronic database
that houses information about violations of wildlife
regulations, legal and illegal wildlife trade, and declared
imports and exports of wildlife. Defs.' SOF ¶¶
3-5. Law enforcement officers routinely access LEMIS and use
it as the portal for gathering and sharing intelligence
between law enforcement offices around the country.
Id. LEMIS includes information that importers and
exporters submit through Form 3-177, the “Declaration
for Importation and Exportation of Fish or Wildlife.”
Id. ¶ 6. With some narrow exceptions, anyone
importing or exporting wildlife products must submit Form
3-177 before doing so. Pl.'s SOF ¶ 23; see
also 50 C.F.R. §§ 14.61-64. Form 3-177
requests several categories of information, including the
declared monetary value of the wildlife being imported or
exported, the name of the U.S. importer or exporter, and the
name of the foreign importer or exporter. Defs.' SOF
¶ 8; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 24.
Humane Society International's Freedom of Information Act
and 2015, Humane Society International (HSI) made three
requests of FWS under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA),
5 U.S.C. § 552, seeking records from
LEMIS.Pl.'s SOF ¶ 27. In response to
each request, FWS released some records but redacted several
categories of information in the records. See Vaughn
Index. Relevant here, FWS withheld the declared monetary
value of the wildlife and the name of the foreign importer or
exporter under FOIA Exemption 4, and the name of the U.S.
importer or exporter under FOIA Exemptions 6 and 7(C).
Pl.'s SOF ¶ 28. HSI administratively appealed
FWS's responses to all three of its FOIA requests but
never received a final determination on any of them.
Pl.'s SOF ¶ 30.
the constructive denial of its administrative appeals, HSI
filed this lawsuit against FWS, the U.S. Department of the
Interior, and the Secretary of the Department of the Interior
(collectively, “Defendants”), asserting that the
redactions were improper. Compl. ¶¶ 75-85. HSI also
brought a claim under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA),
5 U.S.C. § 551 et seq., asserting that FWS
failed to adequately explain its decision to withhold these
categories of information given that on prior occasions it
had released them in response to HSI's FOIA requests.
Id. ¶¶ 86-92.
case proceeded, FWS released additional information that HSI
had requested. See ECF Nos. 14, 18, 22-25, 27. And
several months after the complaint was filed, Safari Club
International (SCI) filed an unopposed motion to intervene as
of right as a defendant, which the Court granted.
See ECF No. 16; Minute Order of August 19, 2016.
regulations require consultation with those who have
submitted information to FWS before it releases any
information that may be protected by FOIA Exemption 4 as
confidential business information. See 43 C.F.R.
§§ 2.29-2.34 (requiring federal agencies to consult
submitters before the release of information the agency
believes may be protected by Exemption 4). So in late 2016,
FWS published a notice in the Federal Register soliciting
comments from companies and individuals who had submitted
Form 3-177 and whose information was subject to HSI's
FOIA requests. Pl.'s SOF ¶ 33; Defs.' SOF
¶¶ 30-31. FWS solicited their views on whether the
declared monetary value and name of the foreign importer or
exporter on Form 3-177 should be withheld under Exemption
See 81 Fed. Reg. 75, 838 (Nov. 1, 2016).
approximately 12, 000 individuals and entities whose
information was at issue, 113 companies and 1, 429
individuals objected to the release of their information.
See Defs.' SOF ¶ 33; Pl.'s SOF ¶
37. The 113 companies asserted that their information at
issue was confidential business information covered by
Exemption 4. Pl.'s SOF ¶ 37. FWS reviewed these
objections and determined that 93 companies had shown that
withholding that information under Exemption 4 was warranted.
Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 56-57. For the 1, 429 individuals
who objected to the release of their information, FWS
withheld only their names under Exemptions 6 and 7(C) and
released all other categories of the information from the
forms they submitted. Id. ¶¶ 35-36, 38.
Since then, FWS has clarified that it no longer relies on
Exemption 4 to withhold the names of the foreign importers or
exporters, but instead relies on Exemptions 6 and 7(C).
Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 26-27; Decl. of Hyde-Michaels
cases are typically resolved on summary judgment motions,
which “[t]he court shall grant . . . 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); Brayton v. Office of the
U.S. Trade Rep., 641 F.3d 521, 527 (D.C. Cir. 2011). A
factual dispute is material if it “might affect the
outcome of the suit under the governing law” and
genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury
could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.”
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247
FOIA, a federal agency must “disclose information to
the public upon reasonable request unless the records at
issue fall within specifically delineated exemptions.”
Judicial Watch, Inc. v. FBI,522 F.3d 364, 366 (D.C.
Cir. 2008). There is a “strong presumption in favor of
disclosure, ” which “places the burden on the
agency to justify the withholding of any requested
documents.” U.S. Dep't of State v. Ray,502 U.S. 164, 173 (1991); Citizens for Responsibility
& Ethics in Wash. v. U.S. Dep't of Justice (CREW
I),746 F.3d 1082, 1088 (D.C. Cir. 2014). An agency can
meet its burden by submitting affidavits or sworn
declarations that “describe the justifications for
nondisclosure with reasonably specific detail, demonstrate
that the information withheld logically falls within the
claimed exemption, and are not controverted by either
contrary evidence in the ...