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Baldwin v. DOE, No. 18-1872, 2020 WL 376563 (D.D.C. Jan. 23, 2020) (Sullivan, J.)


Baldwin v. DOE, No. 18-1872, 2020 WL 376563 (D.D.C. Jan. 23, 2020) (Sullivan, J.)

Re:  Request for certain email exchanges between plaintiff and several other DOE employees, as well as certain records concerning DOE's budget

Disposition:  Granting defendant's motion for summary judgment

  • Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search:  The court holds that "[defendant's] searches . . . were reasonable under the circumstances of this case."  The court relates that "the declarant asserts that 'DOE searched all locations likely to contain documents responsive to [p]laintiff's FOIA request.'"  "The declarant explains that DOE's Loan Programs Office . . . and Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer . . . were the places where records responsive to plaintiff's FOIA request likely would be found."  The court then relates that defendant explained how the searches were conducted.
  • Exemption 5, Deliberative Process Privilege & Attorney-Client Privilege:  "Based on the declarant's representations and Vaughn Index, the Court concludes that DOE properly withholds privileged information under Exemption 5."  The court relates that, first, "DOE withholds from a portion of one document, described as an 'Email chain,' . . . under Exemption 5 because it contains 'intra-agency pre-decisional information involv[ing] DOE employees . . . regarding open issues . . . before DOE could make a decision regarding a transfer request.'"  "According to the declarant, the withheld information included 'deliberative discussions as part of a process . . . lead[ing] to the agency's final policy decision about the matter.'"  "[The declarant] explains that the withheld information 'does not represent final agency action and its release would compromise the deliberative process by which the government makes its decision.'"  Second, the court relates that "DOE withholds from two documents certain communications between an agency employee and DOE's outside legal counsel."  "The declarant explains that DOE employees sought legal advice which outside counsel provided 'regarding withdrawal of funds under a loan agreement.'"  "If such information were released, the declarant states, DOE staff would be deprived 'of the benefit of confidential advice . . . in legal matters and agency decision-making [which] would have a chilling effect' on their ability to discuss matters frankly and openly with outside legal counsel."
  • Exemption 6:  "[T]he Court concludes that DOE properly withholds the mobile telephone numbers and conference call number from the email chains described in the Vaughn Index."  The court finds that "DOE's declarant states that the individuals whose mobile telephone numbers are withheld 'have a significant personal privacy interest in minimizing unwarranted or unsolicited intrusion and harassment' if the numbers were disclosed."  "And 'public release of [the] telephone conference number would potentially allow uninvited third parties to illegally listen to confidential internal calls while also learning private information about authorized participants on the conference call.'"  "In the face of individuals' privacy interest, plaintiff has identified no public interest in disclosure, and the Court finds that no public interest is readily apparent."
  • Litigation Considerations, "Reasonably Segregable" Requirements:  "Based on these submissions, which plaintiff has not challenged, the Court concludes that DOE has released all reasonably segregable information."  The court finds that "DOE's Vaughn Index identifies the particular information withheld from each email chain and adequately explains why the information has been redacted under Exemption 5 or 6."  "Further, the declarant avers that all segregable information has been released."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Exemption 5
Exemption 5, Attorney-Client Privilege
Exemption 5, Deliberative Process Privilege
Exemption 6
Litigation Considerations, Adequacy of Search
Litigation Considerations, “Reasonably Segregable” Requirements
Updated November 15, 2021