Am. Immigration Lawyers Ass'n v. EOIR, No. 15-5201, 2016 WL 4056405 (D.C. Cir. July 29, 2016) (Srinivasan, J.)
Re: Request for records concerning complaints about conduct of immigration judges
Disposition: Affirming in part and reversing and remanding in part district court's grant of EOIR's motion for summary judgment
- Exemption 6: "[The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit] conclude[s] that EOIR's across-the-board redaction of all judges' names from all responsive documents was inadequately justified." The court finds that "[t]he records at issue encompass all complaints . . . received during the relevant time period: whether substantiated or unsubstantiated, whether related to serious issues or comparatively trivial ones, and whether about immigration judges' conduct on the bench or their conduct outside the workplace." "Moreover, the privacy interests at stake encompass those of each immigration judge subjected to any of the wide variety of types of complaints: whether a sitting immigration judge or someone no longer on the bench, whether a judge who has faced only one complaint or a judge who has repeatedly been the target of complaints, and whether the judge has been subjected to some type of discipline or has avoided disciplinary action (and the reasons why)." "Given the variety in types of complaints and circumstances of individual immigration judges, not every judge has the same privacy interests at stake and not every complaint would equally enlighten the public about 'what their government is up to.'" "Because EOIR here sought to justify its withholding of immigration judges' names in purely categorical, across-the-board terms, it has not carried its burden to justify the Exemption 6 redactions."
- Procedural Requirements, Responding to FOIA Requests: The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit holds that "it was improper for EOIR to redact non-responsive information from responsive records." The court notes that this "appeal . . . brings to [the court] a question of first impression: if the government identifies a record as responsive to a FOIA request, can the government nonetheless redact particular information within the responsive record on the basis that the information is non-responsive?" The court finds that "[t]he statute does not provide for withholding responsive but non-exempt records or for redacting nonexempt information within responsive records." The court explains that "once an agency identifies a record it deems responsive to a FOIA request, the statute compels disclosure of the responsive record – i.e., as a unit – except insofar as the agency may redact information falling within a statutory exemption." Further, the court finds that "FOIA calls for disclosure of a responsive record, not disclosure of responsive information within a record." The court does note that "[t]he practical significance of FOIA's command to disclose a responsive record as a unit (after deletion of exempt information) depends on how one conceives of a 'record.'" "Here, the parties have not addressed the antecedent question of what constitutes a distinct 'record' for FOIA purposes, and we have no cause to examine the issue." "[T]he dispositive point is that, once an agency itself identifies a particular document or collection of material – such as a chain of emails – as a responsive 'record,' the only information the agency may redact from that record is that falling within one of the statutory exemptions."
- Proactive Disclosures: The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit "find[s] no error in the district court's rejection of ["[plaintiff's] claims that complaint resolution decisions for immigration judges amount to 'final opinions [and] orders, made in the adjudication of cases' and thus must affirmatively be disclosed by EOIR regardless of any request"]." The court explains that "[c]omplaint resolutions do not result from an adjudicatory process such that we would consider them 'final opinions' rendered in the 'adjudication of [a] case [ ].'" The court finds that "nothing in the complaint process makes an individual complainant a party to the investigation or to any other aspect of the process." "Complaint resolutions thus do not reflect a final decision as to the rights of outside parties; nor do they entitle any outside parties to any form of relief." "As a result, they are not subject to FOIA's affirmative disclosure requirement." The court also "fail[s] to see how the affirmative disclosure of complaint resolution decisions would serve the requirement's core purpose – preventing the creation of 'secret (agency) law[.]'"