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Archibald v. DOJ, No. 1:1-CV-2028, 2013 WL 2948212 (D.D.C. June 17, 2013) (Walton, J.)

Monday, June 17, 2013
Re: Request for access to 2008 background check of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama Disposition: Granting defendant's motion for summary judgment; denying plaintiff's motions as moot
  • Exemption 7(C):  The Court concludes that the requested information was correctly withheld pursuant to Exemption 7(C).  The Court first notes that, although the agency asserted Exemptions 6 and 7(C) in response to this request, "it is sufficient to consider only Exemption 7(C), because if the defendants are not excused from disclosure under the heightened privacy protection of Exemption 7(C), then neither will they be excused under Exemption 6."  The Court then proceeds to lay out the standard for Exemption 7(C), noting that, "[f]irst, the records must have been compiled for law enforcement purposes . . . [s]econd, disclosure of the records must be reasonably expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy[, and] [f]inally, the invasion of personal privacy must not be outweighed by the public interest in disclosure of the records."  First, the Court finds that, "[a] background check on a presidential candidate is an obvious national security function, and there is no indication the FBI was acting outside the scope of its law enforcement duties when it performed the background check on now President Obama."  "Moreover, 'an assertion by the FBI that ... records are for a law enforcement purpose is entitled to deference because the FBI is a law enforcement agency.'"  Second, the Court finds that, "Information gleaned from a background check is typically considered private information, even if particular subsets of the information have already been disclosed to the public."  In rejecting plaintiff's argument that "'he believed that President Obama had ‘waived his rights under the Privacy Act ... by running for President and submitting to an FBI background check,''" the Court states that, “[a]lthough candidacy for federal office may diminish an individual's right to privacy, it does not eliminate it.”"  Finally, the Court finds that, "plaintiff has not articulated a proper public purpose for the disclosure of the information he seeks."  The Court explains that, "plaintiff concedes that the FBI and the Department of Justice have released copies of President Obama's birth certificate, which indicates that he was born in the United States."  "Because the plaintiff's FOIA request claims a public interest that is not 'based on the known facts,' . . . this is precisely the sort of circumstance in which 'the privacy interest ... is ... at its apex while the FOIA-based public interest ... is at its nadir.'"  Therefore, the Court grants defendant's motion for summary judgment and denies plaintiff's motions.
  • Litigation Considerations, Vaughn Index:  The Court rejects "plaintiff['s assertion] that summary judgment is inappropriate until the defendants produce an index of withheld materials pursuant to Vaughn v. Rosen, 484 F.2d 820 (D.C.Cir.1973)."  The Court notes that "'the government does not necessarily have to produce a Vaughn index to justify denying a FOIA request under ... exemptions [other than Exemption 7(A) ]....'"  The Court goes on to specify that, "[this] Circuit specifically included Exemption 7(C) among those exemptions for which an index is not required."
  • Litigation Considerations, In Camera Inspections:  The Court rejects plaintiff's request for an in camera inspection because, "'[t]he reviewing court 'is not obligated to conduct an in camera review of the documents withheld [under a FOIA exemption]; the decision to do so is discretionary.''"  Therefore, "because the Court has concluded that the requested records are protected from disclosure by Exemption 7(C) even if they contain exactly what the plaintiff hoped to find by submitting his FOIA request, ordering in camera review prior to awarding the defendants summary judgment is unnecessary."
District Court
Exemption 7C
In Camera Review
Litigation Considerations
Vaughn Index
Updated August 6, 2014