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ACLU v. DOJ, No. 19-5483, 2021 WL 4429221 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 27, 2021) (Vyskocil, J.)


ACLU v. DOJ, No. 19-5483, 2021 WL 4429221 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 27, 2021) (Vyskocil, J.)

Re:  Request for records concerning grant programs administered by Office of Justice Programs ("OJP") and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention ("OJJDP")

Disposition:  Granting in part and denying in part defendants' motion for summary judgment; granting in part and denying in part plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment

  • Exemption 6:  The court holds that "[t]he withholdings made solely on the grounds of Exemption 6 are . . . inadequate."  First, the court notes that "[t]he Parties do not dispute that the withholdings here apply to information contained in a requisite file under the first step of the inquiry."  " Instead, the parties dispute whether the withholding of 'other personally identifying information,' 'positions, job responsibilities (e.g. the areas over which a law enforcement employee has oversight),' 'educational history,' 'employment history' and 'professional awards' is appropriate."  The court finds that "[t]he Second Circuit has expressly directed that 'identifying information such as names, addresses, and other personal information falls within the ambit of privacy concerns under FOIA.'"  "And other courts routinely hold that employment history, and similar information, may give rise to a privacy interest for purposes of FOIA."  However, the court notes that "[t]he existence of a privacy interest in the withheld information, however, does not end the inquiry."  "Information that may identify an individual does [not] necessarily present an actual threat of a 'clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.'"  The court finds that "Defendants baldly state that the subjects of the information withheld under Exemption 6 'will be vulnerable to harassment should their information be disclosed.'"  "Defendants do little to support their speculative assertion that 'the sensitive topic of law enforcement within immigrant communities' leaves these individuals 'vulnerable to harassment or attack.'"  "Indeed, it is not entirely clear based on the Defendants’ declaration how, or even that, these individuals are involved with immigration."  "Because Defendants have not made any such showing, whatever privacy interest the individuals may have in controlling the disclosure of their employment history, job responsibilities, and professional awards, among other things . . . is de minimis and the need to balance the privacy interest with the public interest in disclosure is not triggered."
  • Exemption 7, Threshold:  The court holds that "Defendants clear the threshold hurdle that the information in this case was 'compiled for law enforcement purposes,' and was used in assisting law enforcement officials in the course of their duties."  The court finds that "[t]he withheld information in this case relates to the two grant programs for which Plaintiffs have requested documents:  the 'FY 2018 Gang Suppression:  A Law Enforcement and Prosecutorial Approach to Address Gang Recruitment of Unaccompanied Alien Children' and the 'FY 2018 Gang Suppression Planning Grants Program.'"  "Defendants claim the Exemption 7(C) withholdings relate to identifying information 'of law enforcement personnel[ ] who would execute the law enforcement aspects of a grant program' and additional personal identifying information received by the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department, the Suffolk County Police Department, and the Dallas County District Attorney's Office 'compiled for a law enforcement purpose [(i.e.,] applying for and executing a law enforcement program grant.'"  "Defendants further explain that the Exemption 7(E) redactions may either reveal a '[d]escription of intelligence and law enforcement sources and methods' or a 'geographical map of [ ] targeted areas [that] could be used to circumvent' law enforcement."  "The Defendants have drawn a rational nexus to the activity in compiling the documents and law enforcement. Thus, the information is properly considered 'compiled for law enforcement purposes' under Exemption 7."
  • Exemption 7(C):  The court holds that "Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment as to the withheld information subject to Exemption 7(C) is granted."  The court first notes that "[c]ertain of the redactions in the documents provided to Plaintiffs were made on the basis of both Exemption 6 and Exemption 7(C)."  "Thus, to the extent the withholding of the information under Exemption 6 was inadequate, the Court now reconsiders whether withholding under Exemption 7(C) is appropriate."  Regarding the withheld information, the court relates that "Defendants state that the information is the '[p]ersonally identifying information of law enforcement personnel, who would execute the law enforcement aspects of a grant program.'"  It is also "'information of law enforcement personnel submitted by various local law enforcement agencies' 'compiled for [the] law enforcement purposes' of 'applying for and executing a law enforcement program grant.'"  The court finds that "Plaintiffs already have received substantial information directed to 'understanding how OJP views the desired qualifications of grantees, and how the federal programs will be implemented.'"  "Plaintiffs do not explain how the now extremely limited information withheld under Exemption 7(C) would 'shed any additional light on the Government’s conduct.'"  "Indeed, Defendants' declaration provides detail about which schools, departments, and offices are involved in the law enforcement aspect of the grant programs."  "Thus, Plaintiff cannot, and has not, shown how the additional disclosure will serve the public interest, and disclosure would therefore be 'an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.'"
  • Exemption 7(E):  The court holds that "Defendants have clearly established that the information withheld under Exemption 7(E) was warranted and appropriate."  "Defendants provide ample explanations, supported by its declaration, of how the disclosure of the information withheld under Exemption 7(E) would clearly reveal key details about how law enforcement works to suppress gang activity and allow circumvention of those efforts . . . ."  The court proceeds to point to several specific examples.  The court finds that "[a]s Defendants point out '[i]f criminals know when and where law enforcement is going to enforce the law, it will be easier to circumvent enforcement operations.'"
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 6
Exemption 7(C)
Exemption 7(E)
Exemption 7, Threshold
Updated October 28, 2021