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z The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA): Court Cases

"The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a law that gives you the right to access information from the federal government. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government." ~foia.gov

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court consists of the Chief Justice of the United States and such number of Associate Justices as may be fixed by Congress. The number of Associate Justices is currently fixed at eight (28 U. S. C. §1). Power to nominate the Justices is vested in the President of the United States, and appointments are made with the advice and consent of the Senate. Article III, §1, of the Constitution further provides that "[t]he Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office."

Ongoing cases

Freedom of Information Case List

Cases on FOIA exemptions

Find these cases using the Library's  Nexis Uni subscription.

 Secondary sources, treatises and annotations may be a good place to find relevant cases. The cases below are examples of cases involving FOIA exemptions that also reflect FOIA's purpose and reason for being: to provide access to government information.

Dep't of the Air Force v Rose, 425 US 352 (1976).
 This case was brought to review a decision stating that there was no FOIA exemption for summaries of ethics and honor cases. The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision and interpreted the exemption narrowly. According to Stein, this case, among others, shows that FOIA exemptions should be "strictly and narrowly construed" (Stein 3-11 Administrative Law §11.02).


DOI v Klamath Water Users Protective Ass'n, 532 US 1 (2001).
This case involved discussions of exempting documents that were not agency documents, but instead were created by a Native American tribe. The court noted that in the past, interpreted the statute tightly: "we have elsewhere insisted be read strictly in order to serve FOIA's mandate of broad disclosure," and as a result did not support the exemption (DOI, 532 US at 16).


FCC v AT&T Inc., 131 S. Ct. 1177 (2011)
In this recent case, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations do not have "personal privacy" that would fall under a FOIA exemption and prevent them from having to release documents. In this case, AT&T was being investigated by the FCC after admitting it may have overcharged the government under a Federal program it was a part of, and provided documents to the agency, which were later requested by a third party through a FOIA request.

Kerr v United States Dist. Court for Northern Dist.  511 F2d 192 (9th Cir. 1975),  affd, 426 US 394 (1976).
This case was an example of exemptions in FOIA being meant to generally allow withholding of specific types of documents and information.  Stein states that this case is one that shows that FOIA is "to open administrative processes to the scrutiny of the press and general public" (Stein 2-7 Administrative Law § 7.05).


NLRB v. Robbins Tire & Rubber Co., 437 U.S. 214, 242 (1978)
In this case, the National Labor Relations Board contested wheather FOIA required them to disclose witness statements prior to a hearing. "FOIA was not intended to function as a private discovery tool" for litigation, and it is more intended to allow the public to be informed about agency actions  (Pierce §5.3, 341).


Department of Justice v. Tax Anaylsts, 492 U.S. 136 (1989)
Tax Analysts sought to obtain unpublished tax court cases, which were previously largely unavailable to the general public, for thier publications via FOIA. The Supreme Court ruled these records should be disclosed.  According to Pierce, this case represents how inaccessable to the general public much goverment agency material would be without FOIA, as these cases were essentially "secret law" without it (Pierce §5.3, 342).
 

Assasination Archives and Research Center, INC., v. CIA 720 F. Supp. 217 (1989)
"the rationale for this rule is that FOIA was not intended to reduce government  agencies to full-time investigators on behalf of requestors."~Guide to FOIA 2009 ed. pg. 47
 
 CHRYSLER CORP. v. BROWN, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE, ET AL. 441 U.S. 281 (1979)

G. M. ZEMANSKY v. EPA

"observing that the reasonableness of an agency search depends upon the facts of each case."~Guide to FOIA 2009 ed. pg. 69

 

ISLAMIC SHURA COUNCIL OF  SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA ET AL.  vs.  FBI

 

JOHN DOE AGENCY AND JOHN DOE GOVERNMENT AGENCY, PETITIONERS v. JOHN DOE CORPORATION 493 U.S. 146  (1989)

 

NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION, Petitioner v. ALLAN J. FAVISH et al. 541 U.S. 157 (2004)

"As a general rule, when documents are within FOIA's disclosure provisions, citizens should not be required to explain why they seek the information."

 

Open America, et al. v. The Watergate Special Prosecution Force, et al., Appellants 547 F.2d 605 (1976)

 

PAUL NEWMAN, et al. v. LEGAL SERVICES CORPORATION, et al. 628 F. Supp. 535 (1986)

"Finding that request was not properly made because plaintiff failed to follow agency regulation requiring that request be denominated explicitly as request for information under FOIA."~Guide to FOIA 2009 ed. pg. 46

 

ROBERT A. BURKA v. UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OFHEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES; PUBLIC HEALTH SERVICE; THE NATIONAL NSTITUTES OF HEALTH; NATIONAL CANCER INSTITUTE  87 F.3d 508 (1996) 

The court identified four factors to consider when evaluating agency "control" of a record.

 

DOJ v. REPORTERS COMMITTEE FOR FREEDOM OF THE PRESS et al. 489 U.S. 749 (1989) 

A FOIA requester's identity generally "has no bearing on the merits of his or her FOIA request." From Guide to the FOIA page 44.

 

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE v. TAX ANALYSTS 492 U.S. 136 (1989)

The Supreme Court articulated a two part test for determining what constitutes "agency records" under the FOIA.

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